Bree woke up covered in rainbows.
She stretched her arms toward the ceiling, feeling a giggle caught in her chest, then noticed the ripples of color moving down her bare arms and sparkling on her fingertips.
Flickers of rainbows touched the edges of her memory. Bree was positive she had dreamed about rainbows, but had not a single solid memory. Nothing but those hints.
The rainbows moved over her skin like the colors shifted through Jori's dreamstone.
"Jori?" Bree rolled over and looked at the bottom of the other bunk, at her roommate.
"Hnn?" The mound of blankets shifted, then Jori stuck her dark head out into view. "What's-- " Her mouth dropped open.
"I'm not imagining it, am I?" she whispered.
"What in the world happened to you?" Jori pushed aside her blankets and stumbled out of her bed, across the little bit of clear space in their dorm room. She rested one hand on the frame of Bree's bunk, then raised her other hand and studied the dreamstone strapped to her wrist with a silver mesh band.
"What's it say?" Bree held still, her own dark hair falling into her face.
"It doesn't say anything--I have to read it."
Bree groaned at the old joke, but she felt immediately lighter, less worried. If Jori could joke, that meant she already knew things were fine. Gesturing her roommate aside, Bree sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bunk and slid down to the floor.
"Do you mind?" Jori held out her hand, waiting, until Bree thought it over and nodded. Tension rippled up her arm, making her look ten years older for just a moment.
Jori, Bree realized, was fully a Solar, a guardian of worlds. It didn't matter that they had stayed up until nearly two a.m., eating chocolate bars and drinking cola in an effort to stay awake while they crashed through their last term papers before summer. Jori looked like Bree expected a warrior to look, stern and concentrating, serious, ready to defend her and maybe even the whole floor--even if she did wear pajamas with green and yellow ponies on them.
A spark leaped from the dreamstone on Jori's wrist the moment her fingers touched Bree's bare arm. Both girls jerked, then let out gasping laughs. Jori took a firm, gentle grip on her roommate's arm. She closed her eyes and held still for only a few heartbeats.
"Okay," she said, letting go, her eyes still closed. "I think we should go talk to Lew. Right now."
"What is it?" Bree reached for the shorts she had discarded last night. She considered tucking her oversized T-shirt, which she wore for pajamas, into her shorts and just going out to Old Solar's Shoppe that way, then decided against it.
"I'm not really...sure. It's better if we go to Lew before I say anything. In case I'm wrong." Jori paused in slipping on her jeans, and tried to grin. "I mean, I'm still an apprentice and there's an awful lot I still have to learn about the multi-worlds."
"You know more than me," she whispered.
"Yeah, well, I don't know anything about the worlds you'll be able to reach someday. It's a fair trade."
Bree opened her mouth to ask how fair it was, when Jori could go to any world touchable by a dreamstone, whereas she couldn't touch worlds open to Taksearhe. As far as she was concerned, dreaming truth dreams wasn't anywhere near a step in the right direction.
"Hey, stop beating yourself again." Jori lobbed her sandal at Bree, then had to cross the room to fetch it. "How do you know you're not a Taksearhe already? Without someone to teach you how the different worlds feel so you can find them, how do you know you can't do it? I mean, your father was the one who could jump blindly to other worlds, right? And that gift only shows up every two or three generations, right?"
"Right. Reading my mind as usual. Dreamstones are sure convenient."
"Dreamstone, nothing. I know you, roomy. We have huge, overly active consciences, and we feel responsible for messes we didn't make."
"The Galahad syndrome." She sighed and stood up, dressed decently now and ready to leave. "Thanks."
"One for all, and all for one." Jori glanced at the neatly made bunk, empty, above her own, as they headed out the door.
Alex, who should have been asleep or at least grumbling about the noise they were making, had left yesterday to stay at her mother's side in the hospital. The doctors said she could die any day now. Jori had been in a foul mood after the doctors had confiscated the medicine she had brought back from Unipuri to help heal Mrs. Harris. Alex had felt guilty for her own careless handling of the matter, letting the doctors find out about the otherworldly medicine in the first place. Bree had suggested asking one of her adopted grandmothers, a touch healer, to try to help Mrs. Harris, and both roommates vetoed the idea. If Gaylen Rivers could pull off a miracle that evaded modern science, that would draw exactly the wrong attention to the community of exiles. Besides, how could they get a total stranger to Alex's mother through military security and scientific suspicions? Alex was already in trouble for giving her mother an "unapproved" drug to try to help her. Bringing a stranger into a military hospital would get them all in trouble. Bree had reluctantly agreed, and felt guilty over her relief that she wouldn't have to ask Gaylen to take the risk.
Musing over their intertwined problems kept Bree busy and both girls silent as they drove to Old Solar's Shoppe. Jori consulted her dreamstone as they neared the shop on the edge of town.
"He's still here," she said, holding up her quiescent dreamstone. "He was planning on visiting K'thondolon today. Come on." She nearly opened the door of the car and got out before Bree could bring it to a full stop.
"Lew!" Jori shouted as she burst through the front door of the shop.
Bree followed, pausing with her hand reaching for the doorknob, and looked at her dim reflection in the dew-frosted window.
No rainbows in the reflection. She grinned at the hollow sensation of relief in her gut...but when she looked at her arms, the rainbows were still there. If she couldn't see the rainbows in her reflection, maybe ordinary people couldn't see them either? Maybe it took Talents, or other gifted people, to see the rainbows?
If yes, that was good. But what did it mean?
Bree took another deep breath and followed Jori inside.
"Lew?" Jori stood just within view on the stairs leading up to the book and reading area.
"Good timing," Lewis Solar called. His voice sounded muffled. Footsteps showed he was on his way to the stairs. "I would have been gone in another ten minutes." He appeared in the stairway. "Now, what's the--" He stopped short, his welcoming smile frozen as he took a good look at Bree.
"Well, that answers that question," Bree murmured. She glanced at Jori, who grinned at her and took her usual perch on the edge of the counter by the decrepit cash register.
"How did you persuade an omeehlee to traverse the void?" he whispered. Lew shook his head and his smile turned to awe. "Have you come into your Taksearhe powers?"
"That's what I'd like to know," she wailed. "Lew, I woke up this way and I can't remember what I dreamed last night. I mean, it has to have something to do with it, right?"
"Indeed. Come inside." He nodded toward the curtain into his living quarters and waited for the girls to go ahead.
"Then I was right." Jori hurried over to the sink to fill the kettle. Crystal vein tea was the order of business when discussing a problem at Old Solar's Shoppe. "An omeehlee."
"What's an omeehlee?" Bree asked. "I mean, I know it makes me look like something from The Wizard of Oz, but ..."
"There are worlds where the residents do not have physical bodies as we know them. They are energy. Life force. Pure intelligence and emotion. They take on physical manifestations when they go to other worlds."
"How do they get into those worlds?" Jori settled down next to Bree at the table and squeezed her roommate's shoulder.
"Like this." Lew brought a tub of whipped butter, a pot of peach preserves and biscuits to the table, and nodded toward Bree as he put the impromptu snack on the table. "They hitch a ride with residents of those worlds."
"Hitch a ride?" Bree felt queasy.
"They cannot simply attach themselves to us, Bree." He reached across the table to take both her hands in his. "They cannot invade our bodies or our minds, which they must touch to join with us. An omeehlee is here because you permitted, perhaps even invited it. Though why you don't remember..." He shook his head and his eyes went distant with thought.
"I don't remember any dreams, except when I spy on people. Like with Jori," she offered. "And up until I met Jori and Alex, I didn't have any spying dreams since my dad was killed."
"Then it's safe to say that you are once again a dream-walker, but the trauma of your father's murder still blocks your conscious mind. In your sleep, you go to other worlds."
"Great. Maybe I can take the exiles home to Rehdonna in my sleep, too."
"Perhaps. Will you permit me to try something?"
Lew closed his eyes and the dreamstone on his wrist sparkled, the colors shifting at a frantic pace. The rainbows shimmering up and down her bare arms grew brighter, the corona effect reaching almost six inches out from her body.
"How do you feel?" Jori whispered.
"Fine, I guess." Bree thought a moment. "I get this feeling...you know how when somebody is talking, but you can't hear the words, or where it's coming from?"
"Lew's talking to the omeehlee. That's good." She got up to check on the kettle. "He knows what he's doing."
Lew didn't open his eyes until Jori had poured the boiling water into the pot-bellied tea pot and brought it to the table to steep. He released Bree's hands and sat back with a sigh. His shoulders slumped a little, but he smiled at both girls.
"You and your friend, whom you named Iris met more than a month ago. She's very fond of you, and she thinks you are rather clever," he announced.
"Wait a minute." Bree put down the biscuit she had split and filled with peach preserves. "I've been going to another world for a month now? Do I remember everything when I'm talking to her, at least?"
"Oh, yes. It's been rather frustrating for both of you." Lew chuckled and helped himself to a biscuit.
"Well, at least we have proof, besides what I've seen happening to Jori and Alex and other people. I mean, proof that my dreams aren't just...dreams."
"Bree, dreams should always be taken very seriously," Jori said. She tilted the lid and sniffed at the steam coming out of the teapot. "Almost done. I had dreams that were messages and warnings from Unipuri. Dreams are much more serious than most people can imagine."
Lew reached over to pick up the teapot and pour for the three of them. "Our sleeping minds are often far wiser than we are," he said when they were all served. "It knows you are not ready--or rather, were not ready--to have the wall knocked down in your mind. Iris feels you are ready, and circumstances require you to be fully healed and given control of your Taksearhe abilities."
"Yeah, I mean, there's no one here to teach her," Jori said. "All we have is theory."
"Theory is better than nothing at all. I believe it is time to take Bree to the Midworld. Do you two have time?"
"Two hours until our first class," Jori said, glancing at her watch. "This'll be great, Bree. Once you can find your doorways, you can take me through and I can report what it's like. The Solar masters who are dying to talk to a real Taksearhe."
"It's roads, not doors," Bree said, shivering a little as information rose up from her memories. "Daddy always said it was like finding a pathway. Stepping sideways, I guess."
Bree obediently drank three cups of crystal vein tea that Lew decreed was necessary to buffer her for the passage through the doorway to the Midworld. Lew and Jori cleaned up their snack, then abruptly it was time to go. Jori had shown Bree the doorway before, and activated her dreamstone so she could get an idea of what happened. Bree had seen the shifting of colors, the swirls of stars in the velvety darkness within the door frame, but when she reached out a hand to touch it, the surge of energy had stung her. Jori and Lew had both theorized that it was because Jori hadn't been focusing on any particular world, she had simply opened the door. When the time came to take Bree through the doorway, it wouldn't hurt at all.
"Let's try something, shall we?" Lew said, as Jori unlocked and unchained the doorway. "Jori will go through the doorway to the Midworld. If you see or sense a path, follow it. I will hold your hand, to keep us in contact and keep you from straying, but I will not activate my dreamstone unless I believe we are in danger."
Bree was about to open her mouth to say that sounded like a reasonable test, when she realized Lew hadn't made a suggestion--he had given a clear order, disguised as an idea.
"Let's go," Bree whispered. She wrapped her arms tight around herself and tried to brace herself for--anything.
For her fifth birthday, her father had taken her to Rehdonna for two hours, to meet her grandmother. Bree had tried for years to remember the sensations, what she had seen, the energy that rippled over her skin, the change in scent and temperature and moisture as her father led her from a hotel room in Ohio to her grandmother's garden, in the Taksearhe clan house.
Now, she couldn't decide what was really memory, and what was her imagination. It was so long ago, with such a thick wall of hurt and longing standing between then and now.
"Ready?" Jori stretched out her hand with the dreamstone and stepped up to the dusty darkness inside the door frame.
Dust and wood and shadows turned to velvet shot with stars and burning rainbow streaks. Jori glanced once over her shoulder and took a step. Darkness and streaks of lightning reached out and enveloped her.
Just for a moment, Bree saw Jori's footsteps outlined in burning silver. Then she saw her footsteps stretching out behind and ahead of her until they became threads of energy and life. And at the end of those threads, she saw maelstroms of energy, color and fire. Those were worlds. Not just planets but worlds. Places where life and souls existed in other dimensions, other levels of reality.
"Okay." Bree threw herself forward before she lost the images. Before she lost her nerve. Lew hung onto her hand.
Three steps--the silver fire threads began to fade. Bree took another step, and the silver turned to gray. She opened her mouth to shout for help.
"Here we are." Lew's arm wrapped tight around her, and half a moment later they stepped onto warm sand. The last cool caress of morning kissed Bree's face, then warmth wrapped around her.
"Well?" Jori grabbed hold of Bree's hand, which was good because her legs threatened to buckle.
"I did it," she gasped. "For a little while, at least."
"You created a path through the vortex," Lew explained. "Bree was able to follow the path. However, since she is untrained, she lost the path when the currents went back into their original places."
"But that's a good sign, right?" Jori pushed.
"A very good sign. Come. I've already called Everon and showed him what we need. He has called for the mind-healers, and they are most intrigued."
Bree sat very still, listening to eight different voices arguing--friendly arguing, and in another language. Jori had tried a dozen dreamstone fragments, to find one that would resonate with Bree's mind and soul and let her understand the people around her. It would also save time and effort translating. Not a single dreamstone even tingled against Bree's skin.
"I suspect Iris is part of the problem," Lew had said. "The energy she resonates likely interferes with the power of the dreamstones."
"Either that, or my mental block gets in the way," Bree offered.
Two men and three women nodded, their dreamstones translated just fine. Despite all their theorizing, there was only so much they could do without making contact with Bree and through her to Iris, and entering her mind. To fix the problem, they had to get to the root.
Bree tried not to tense up when she realized that itchy feeling with no discernible location was the first tentative touching of a mind against hers. She used to be able to speak mind-to-mind with her father with no trouble at all. No itching. No sense of being cracked wide open for all the world to blow through her sense of self.
If her eyes were open or closed, she couldn't tell. All sight and sound had vanished. When that happened, she couldn't exactly pinpoint. Maybe they had faded away while she struggled not to resist the people who were trying to help her.
It's okay, Jori said inside Bree's mind. I'm here.
But--Bree laughed when her own voice sounded thick, like she had a bad cold. I guess I'm out of practice.
That's okay. Practice now.
Won't I get in the way of what they're doing?
That's why I'm here in your head. Jori's laugh sparkled like silver water and wrapped apple pie scent around her. I keep you busy so you relax and you don't watch what they're doing in your unconscious mind and memories.
Maybe you shouldn't have told me that?
Nope. Lew said to tell you everything. Can you feel that?
Bree was about to say no, when the sensation of a hand squeezing hers penetrated the warm, comfortable haze that was now her body.
They don't want to put you out completely, so there's going to be some physical feedback. If that's the right word. Jori chuckled. Do you remember anything of your dreams the last few months? Lew thinks you've had splinters, but not enough to stick with you when you wake up.
How could I remember, then?
Impressions. Flashes of memory when you see something during the day. You know, that sense that you just saw or heard or did something the day before. Y'know?
Bree didn't know whether to try to slap Jori for that confusing bit of logic, or laugh at her, or take her seriously.
While she mentally dithered, her conscious mind distracted from the question, the answer came to her. Isolated incidents that meant nothing at the time, but now that she needed to remember, somehow she could.
Yeah. She shivered deep inside. There's someone...I don't know. Looking for me? I see a guy coming around the corner at school and just for a second I get this breathless, gut-twisting feeling. The good kind of gut-twisting, you know? Where you see this really great kiss in the movies and you want it to go on forever because it makes you melt inside?
Oh, yeah. Those aren't too good for your heart, you know? So some hunk is looking for you. What else?
Not a hunk! Bree had to laugh, despite a wish that she had never mentioned that particular impression to Jori. Birds. She felt a little breathless, just from the admission.
What about them?
I just... The big black ones with the ragged wings. You know the ones? They just sit there on the telephone lines, watching you. Sometimes you get the feeling they're waiting until your back is turned, so they can swoop down on you.
Dive bombing, huh? Jori chuckled.
Not really. Bree shivered and flinched away from a sensation of sharp, jagged claws raking out of her dreams and memories, trying to slash at her throat. Or maybe grab her and fly away somewhere far from rescue. She didn't like the impression of darkness filled with the beating of wings and the scorching of some hot, dry, sandy place that had never known a breeze or a shadow.
Well, that was strong enough.
You got that?
Loud and clear.
Very clear, a chiming voice said.
Iris? Bree jerked backwards in her mind--and the next moment felt herself physically falling. Hands reached through the warm haze to catch hold of her.
"We got you." Jori's voice hurt Bree's ears, beat against her skin like the slap of a wet towel. But she wasn't yelling. She wasn't even close to loud, Bree realized.
"Well," Bree gasped as the helping hands settled her back down on the stool where she had perched. "Did it work?"
Of course it worked, that chiming voice said. This time it clearly came from between Bree's ears.
Bree moaned, and hunched her shoulders, wrapping her arms around her legs as she drew her knees up to her chest.
Flashes of memory like the snap of a whip tore through her mind. She remembered every trip to visit Iris in her dreams. The first time she found the world of the rainbow-tinged clouds with no ground in sight, nothing but rainbows and clouds and birds of incredible hues and plumage. She remembered learning to fly, how to propel her spirit-self without feeling that at any moment she would start to tumble and fall forever.
"Hey, it's okay," Jori whispered. She put her arms around Bree and held her tight until the trembling stopped. "You're safe."
How could I forget you, Iris?
That is why we decided I should come to your world, to find out. I am glad to speak with you again, spirit-sister, Iris replied. I am most pleased to meet your friend. Often have we heard of Solars and their most honorable duty.
Waetru's joy to you, Iris, Jori responded.
"Your father built a protective wall in your mind," Everon said.
At his voice, Bree opened her eyes again. The mind-healers had left the room, so only Everon, Lew, Embry and Jori were there with her now.
"A wall?" Bree tried to remember, tried to think of something her father had said or done that would correspond with what the man had just said.
"To protect you," Lew said. "To block you from telling anything dangerous to the enemy. Your father knew it would take great harm to either him or your mother, or both, before the Tobrizz could get hold of you. He made that the trigger. Unfortunately, he didn't tell your mother how to release the wall when the danger had passed."
"I don't remember."
"Of course not." He held out a hand to her. Bree let him tug her off the stool and she followed along after him as they all headed for the door.
"Is the wall down now?"
"There is rubble, metaphorically speaking," Everon said. "You should have memories now of those things you had previously blocked."
"I remember Iris now, at least." Bree looked up to the sky as they stepped out of the meeting room, and grinned at the sight of several birds flying lazy circles in the air above the canyon network of the Collegium. Iris had appeared to her as a bird when they first met. It wasn't the omeehlee's proper shape--she didn't have a shape, since she was purely spirit and energy. The bird and cloud imagery had been supplied by Bree's subconscious to help her cope, give her a handle of seeming reality and solidity to survive.
"Now what do we do?" Jori made a show of sniffing at the warm breeze that drifted around them, and grinned at her roommate.
Bree groaned when the first whiff of bread and cinnamon, butter and apples, warm maple syrup and what had to be honey-crusted baked ham made her mouth water.
"Breakfast," Lew said with a smile. "Then you and Bree should head back to school. Everon and I will research and see what we can find on Taksearhe and their training. Or at least their abilities. I wish I had asked more questions of Jo'am, those few years we had as friends. It would certainly help now."
Bree felt an odd jolt when Lew spoke about her great-grandfather. She had grown up knowing how he had brought an entire village here to safety during the upscaling war in Rehdonna. When he had been killed by treachery from his own clan, Dayree and her people had managed to return to Earth and Wildvine County, but they had been stranded here. His grandson, Kirstan, had been able to leap blindly as Jo'am had done, and found Earth and the exiles after many years of searching. Then the Tobrizz who had been brought to Earth by accident had sensed, hunted, found and killed Kirstan--Bree's father.
"It's up to me as Jo'am's great-granddaughter to get everyone safely home to Rehdonna. Whatever you can tell me, even if it's only theory or memories of him, I'd be glad to hear it," Bree said.
"Hey, we're sisters, remember?" Jori caught hold of Bree's hand and squeezed to emphasize her words. "We'll find a way. I promise."