Within the loft of Lucretia Clement’s home, which was a modest space that sat at the top a spiral staircase and above the enclosed study and living area, the Biqaj named by his father as Zarik awoke drenched in sweat. He sat up from the stone floor. Nearby, Lucretia’s bed remained untouched. Though Zarik had been staying with the scholarly woman for a few trials, he still didn’t want to invade on her intimate sleeping space. Floors suited him fine, even if they were of hard, cold stone. The blanket he’d been using had gotten crumpled under his head. The pillow had somehow journeyed to several paces away. He placed his arms over his knees and steadily breathed. His mind fixated on the dream he’d only just experienced.
The wanderer who had visited him, asked questions of him, provided a glimpse of… he wasn’t certain what and yet he felt as if something profound had occurred. Zarik ran a hand over his scarred forehead. He traced his thumb along the Mark of Faith. His plain tunic was soaked through with sweat. Zarik pulled it off, then stood.
Unlike the state of his Emean avatar, in the waking world, Zarik’s sickly pallor accompanied hollow eyes of dark violet-gold restlessness. His lithe body appeared frail, dappled with golden bruises, and marred by scars on various large portions of his limbs and back. The consistent trait to his avatar proved to be his mutations: the crystalline legs that shimmered in contrast to the black undergarment shorts he wore; the gossamer wings that folded along his tall form; the halo that hovered above his head in gentle iridescent light; and the orphic inkblot tattoo that perpetually moved along the whole of his back in transformative designs.
The inky black designs curled around the silver welt scars that coated his lower back. Zarik could not see them, but he could almost feel them as the dark stain animated around his spine. He walked over to a table, gathered stale water from a basin, and rinsed his face. The youthful Biqaj started to rinse his pale hair then paused. He looked over his shoulder and he saw he wasn’t alone.
Instant recognition of the wanderer, the subdued young man with vibrant eyes, and Zarik asked in an aloof tone, “Am I still dreaming?”
“Of course not,” came the familiar, calm voice. He looked exactly as he had in the dream, right down to his near unblinking grey-green stare, plain clothes, and bare feet. The wanderer-turned-intruder had situated himself upon a small, stray stone stool and seemed oddly comfortable for a man who had, quite literally, popped right out of his dreams - and not in the sensual sense.
It seemed almost… like a hallucination. Zarik rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The irises were crimson dashed with grey pigment. He shook his head, then flicked the water from his hands before drying them with his tunic. The blond tossed the bundled fabric aside. His wings unfolded and fluttered in the dim cyan light of a lantern – the only illumination in the bedroom loft. He asked, “How are you here then?”
The other man tapped his own lower lip in the same place he’d touched Zarik in the dream. “As an etherist, you should know better than most how thin the veil between the waking world and Emea truly is.” He remained where he was, observing, as seemed to be his preferred state of being. “And, for those like us, that veil has the potential to become a doorway.”
Zarik approached the human whose eyes followed his every movement, but whose body remained nearly motionless save for the subtle rise and fall of his chest. He glanced over him, but nothing seemed to suggest that the arrival was one of malice or ill intent. The stranger proved as calm as he had in the dream, the countenance the same in every way that he could recall. He truly hoped that the dreamer was real, and that he hadn’t lost his mind in such a vivid fashion.
He quietly hummed. Had he read about the veil? There were very few texts on the matter of dreamwalking and even Lucretia found herself at a loss to explain it when he’d asked her. She was not a dreamwalker, after all, though she had plenty of theories to share that only confused him more. Zarik looked toward the space that led into the spiral staircase, and he wondered if Lucretia knew about the visitor to her home yet.
“I believe I told you, I am ignorant of a great many things,” he quietly said. He turned his gaze back to the other man. The crimson in his irises faded until they were merely grey entirely. “Why have you come?”
“To verify your truths, lord,” he replied. “I have lived in Quacia my entire life and never once come across a revealed mage.” There should have been at least a hint of recrimination in his voice. Should have but wasn’t. “But it does indeed seem as though you spoke true of your spark’s expressions.” He folded his hands over his lap, the very picture of polite patience - something that seemed wholly out of place given the fact he was there without invitation. “Would you be so kind as to prove to me you are, in fact, an etherist, lord?”
“You’re Quacian.” Zarik’s eyes widened as the other man nodded in affirmation. The grey of his irises vanished in a burst of yellowish-amber color. He settled in a lean against the nearby wall, beside the stool where the human sat. Arms crossed over his bare chest, he glanced over the stranger as if seeing him for the first time. He searched for things he might’ve missed, but would recognize now in the framework of the new information.
Momentary surprise drifted. He listened, and thought to respond, but didn’t rush to do so. Upon the request for proof of his magic, he shrugged. While perhaps it wasn’t the wisest course to trust a stranger who’d come into a home uninvited through a dream… for all he knew the human was a spirit of some sort, playing games of trickery… Zarik simply couldn’t find the will to deny his inherent curiosity. Though they no longer were in Emea, he obliged.
He placed a hand to his chest. Zarik closed his eyes. He grimaced, at first from the warmth in his chest causing familiar muddled emotions. He would have to request Lucretia to knot them for him… but as he focused on what was the simplest of conjurations, he realized an unusual strain. As if challenged by the abnormal resistance, he sent a greater amount of ether into the task and lifted his hand away from his chest. With it, in his palm, he held an orb of Brilliance. Iridescent rays brightened the room around them. He lightly tossed it. The orb bobbed through the air, gently drifting towards the wanderer’s shoulder.
The stranger raised a hand, as if to touch it, but, in the next moment, the light was extinguished. He murmured something under his breath, a slight frown on his lips but no real displeasure in the expression before his grey-green eyes settled once more upon Zarik. “Curious...” There was something - for once - in his eyes that suggested there was more to the comment, but he didn’t offer any further elucidation.
“Thank you for your compliance, lord.” When the stranger stood to offer a polite bow, Zarik felt a subtle weight lift from him, one he only noticed in its absence. “I apologize for my uncouth methods.”
To the apology, Zarik merely nodded. He wondered what the other man had done, what he had tested – as it was clearly a test of some sort – and what the results might’ve been. He said, “You are…”
The stranger raised a brow expectantly, but he didn’t finish the sentence.
Instead, Zarik shook his head and then smiled in a demure, but sincere manner. “You don’t have to call me lord… yet what might I call you?”
He seemed to hesitate, though whether it was out of reluctance or something else wasn’t clear. “You may call me ‘Kiwi’.” If it was a joke, there wasn’t a hint of mirth in his ever-steady gaze. “And you, lord?”
With a slow nod, Zarik made note of the name to remember and then he breathily chuckled when the man called him lord again. Whether spoken from rebellion or deference, he couldn’t tell. When it came to Kiwi, he couldn’t tell many things other than faint instinctual sensations regarding the fleeting sense of familiarity or notions like the invisible weight that had lifted from him.
The Biqaj also hesitated, though his pause displayed clear reluctance on his expression and in his voice. “Well… I… that is- it is…” He didn’t want to be called lord, but he struggled to find a name that might not acquire undue attention toward his reputation, as the Quacian didn’t seem to recognize him.
And as if he’d answered the man, though he had not, Zarik turned away. He went to a nearby dresser, took out a new tunic, then asked, “Would you care for some food or tea, Kiwi? If you’d like a meal, I could put something together for you.”