"Oh, wipe that grin off your face."
Lyna Mahariel glanced up at her friend, at his red, puffy face now permanently marked with the vallaslin for Dirthamen - Keeper of Secrets; huh. Tamlen couldn't keep a secret if his life depended on it - and gave him a look that wanted to be a stern and steady glare but turned into something of a smirk instead. It was a side effect of being around Tamlen, for her; no matter what he did or said, she couldn't quite help but smile when he was near. Even when he looked as grinfully smug as he did just then. He'd had his vallaslin first, and he was never going to let her forget it.
Tamlen puffed out his chest and just kept grinning. "Oh, come on, lethallan. Jealousy doesn't become you."
"Who said I was jealous?" Lyna turned her attention back to the arrow she was refletching. "I just figure that stretching your face like that has got to hurt like the bite of Fen'harel himself. Especially just about ... there." On the last word, she reached up with the blunt end of her arrow and tapped his face, where the new ink met the tender corner of his mouth.
Tamlen yelped and stepped back, but his chuckles soon joined Lyna's. "Please. Compared to the pain of getting these, that was a kiss."
They both fell silent, then - Lyna's eyes turned to her arrow, whereas Tamlen could only look at his feet. That brought up a subject that was not so much touchy as ... anticipatory, from a conversation only a week past.
But ... I want to kiss you. I just ... don't want it to be a childish game, lethallan.
Tamlen ... lethallin ... listen. We're coming of age. On the day we both wear our vallaslin, and we still feel the same way ... will it be worth the wait, do you think?
Even if the wait was forever.
Lyna changed the subject; she was generally the best at that. "What was it like? Getting them, I mean."
Tamlen shrugged, a bit more comfortable, but also a little unsure. "Well ... I don't remember much. Like I said, it hurt like fire ... and I ... saw things ... but I was probably just hallucinating from the pain. And from all the purifying and meditation I did beforehand."
"What did you see?" Lyna stood up and put a hand on Tamlen's shoulder, concern in her eyes. Whatever it was, it seemed to have shaken Tamlen - few would have seen it, but Lyna had known him since they were infants.
It was a long moment before Tamlen answered her. "Darkness, mostly. Not just ... black, like if my eyes were closed, but ... a sort of ... living dark. And ... standing in a dark city, and..." He stopped, looked away. "Stupid things. Just my mind trying to get away from the pain."
Lyna raised an eyebrow at him. There was something he wasn't saying, she was sure of it. "Tamlen..."
Tamlen looked at her, then, with a grin and a glint in his eye. "Anyway, none of that's why I'm here. Look, Keeper Marethari sent me. She said that if I was ready for my vallaslin, you must surely be. If you want it..."
All thoughts of visions Tamlen might have had left Lyna's head in the space of a breath. She squeaked - it wanted to be a word, but all the joy and anticipation got in the way - and hugged him, then realised that him pressing his chin against her shoulder must have hurt and jerked back, horrified. "Sorry! Just..."
But Tamlen was laughing when she pulled away, and took her shoulders so she couldn't get too far. "Don't worry about it. You'll go fasting and I'll go put a cold compress on my face and when next we speak ... we'll both be proper adults. Hmm?"
Lyna squeaked again, reached for him ... then stopped a bit short and settled for ruffling his hair. Then she turned and ran, but only got a few steps away before she turned back. "Tamlen!" He raised an eyebrow at her, and she asked, "How did you decide?"
Tamlen laughed. "You'll see, lethallan." Then he waved her off. Though he watched her as she went, his eyes growing sad and worried. He drove it away, though - there were better things to think about. Like how she had reached up to touch his face, how her lips had pursed so slightly. She remembered their conversation - and she still wanted that kiss every bit as much as he did.
In the face of that, he could keep the secret of the last of his vision from now until the end of forever.
The drink they gave her after her second day of fasting to 'purify the body' made her nauseous, and she might have thrown up had there been anything in her body to lose. The concoction they gave her as a soap to 'purify her skin' stung like fire-oil and nettles. The combination made her light-headed and dizzy, and somehow oversensitive. Her own hallucinations began before the first needle touched her skin - she travelled at the head of a band of ... were some of them shemlen? It was not entirely clear ... and she had to lead them to where they needed to be.
She heard a voice - Marethari, she was sure - speaking above her, and she thought she made a reply ... but then arrows were piercing her flesh, and she would have screamed, perhaps, if she had the breath, but she didn't. Besides, the arrows were shot by monsters, and she had companions; screaming would only distract them from dispatching the monsters, and she would not die here, on this blood-soaked floor...
She staggered to her feet, burning from the inside out, bruised and bitten and fevered, and walked along that blood-soaked floor, struggling to find the outside world. If she would die, it would be under open sky. And then, amidst the pain so great it would not let her scream, she heard a deep voice ask if she could hear him, that he was terribly sorry ... that she must submit. She would have screamed, then, for the pain and for the injustice of it, but she refused to show weakness before...
...Tamlen. She searched for Tamlen amongst the ruins, and she found him drinking from a cup of metal so well-polished that it served as a mirror, reflecting her own horrified eyes as Tamlen choked and fell to his knees, face turning black. Then it paled again, and it was no longer Tamlen lying dead at her feet but a dark-haired shem, whose bow she took...
...And aimed it at Tamlen, who grinned at her with a come-hither air that she had never seen as his tan deepened and his new vallaslin shifted and changed and his hair grew ... and now he told her that he would serve her until she had no further need of him. But she did not want service, and she would always need him - her brother, her friend, her comrade in arms who would share her heart but would never share her bed...
...Her back arched as pain became pleasure for a few moments, as she felt some echo of what making love must be like, and she looked up to find not Tamlen, but a shem with short-shorn hair near as blond as Tamlen's and a similar sort of boyishness in his expression. For a moment, his head bore the shadow of a crown, but when it was over, he placed it upon her head, saying that they'd go wherever she decided, and the crown grew heavy on her head, as horns might feel...
...But she led them, shemlen and durgenlen and the strange being made of stone and the huge dark-skinned giant who named her 'ashkarii' and 'kadan'. She led them through her forests, into the caverns where they might find Tamlen. She found him, briefly, telling her that it was so cold, and that it was not her fault, and that they would not meet again ... but he lied, and she knew it. He vanished around a corner, and she gave chase, with her herd behind her. Instead of Tamlen, they found a green-skinned spirit-woman, and wolves that stood as men, and an elf wearing Dirthamen's marks. It was him she drew upon, pointing her arrow directly between his eyes, and knew this to be the right thing as she let the arrow fly...
...It struck Tamlen, and his vallaslin ran like blood to blacken his face as he whispered what sounded like ma serannas. Then he fell, and a shem - the shem, the one that shared her bed and her heart - had his hand on her shoulder, telling her that it was a mercy. She no longer had the heart to scream or even cry, because that would wound her shem lover, though she sent out a silent plea for mercy...
...Mercy came in the form of a great dragon, eyes white with taint, voice sweet with song. When she drove her blade through its head, she felt the pain, and the world turned white and silent...
Lyna staggered out of the makeshift shelter next to the Keeper's aravel some time later, a hand rising to her forehead as if to rub the things she'd seen away. Instead she winced as her hand found the skin hot and tender to the touch. Tamlen, who had been pacing the ground nearby for so long that he'd worn a rut in the dirt, ran up to her and took her shoulders. "You were in there for ages! Are you alright?"
She looked up at him, eyes meeting his, and her secret butted up against his own, though neither of them knew it except in their deepest, darkest thoughts. Instead, she reached up and kissed him, long and deep and with an experience she would not have for years yet - a remnant, perhaps, of a life half-seen in dreams and agony. When she pulled away, she regarded Tamlen's expression of pleasure-tinged shock for a moment before answering it with a smirk. "Does that answer your question?"
Not fully recovered from the shock or the pleasure, Tamlen reached up and gently traced the lines of the vallaslin under her left eye. "Ghilan'nain," he murmured. "I'd have picked Andruil. Any idea why?"
Well, I don't know what we should do. I'll go wherever you decide.
The voice in her head was familiar and yet not, and faded when she tried to examine it. With time, it would likely be as distant as any other dream. But for now, it stayed with her, though she simply responded with a shrug, a smirk and a reply of, "Since I'm the one who always finds our way home when you get us hopelessly lost in the forest, do you really have to ask that question?"
Tamlen laughed. "Fair enough. So." He cleared his throat, blushing a bit. "You ... your new marks don't come near your lips, I see. That's ... something. A ... good thing, I suppose?"
She smiled at him. "You'll have to tell me. Unless you wanted to stop at one."
With a laugh, Tamlen wrapped his arms around Lyna. "Well, I think I'm going to need a lot of practice if I'm going to get as good as you at it."
Tamlen kissed her, and Lyna returned it with abandon, driving away the nightmares and the foreboding at the pit of her soul that she should enjoy this for the short time she would have it.
When it all began some eight months later, Lyna only remembered enough to spend the last year of her life in a haze of resignation and a sick, heavy feeling of inevitability. Her path had, she somehow knew, been burned into her in blood.