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Her days drifted into each other - always dark, always cold, always dry. Only the dreams seemed to show any difference. Some nights, they were lucid and clear, as crisp as the air and as real as any of the short days. Some nights, they were far-off, like childhood memories, barely realized and hazy.
It was getting harder to separate them from reality.
She knew, as well as Malaamig or Diren, that she was not well. She flirted with a fever - never hot enough to the touch to be truly alarming, but not quite a healthy temperature, and food and drinking had become duties. There was no pleasure in putting the meat in her mouth - however well Malaamig prepared it - and no relief to her thirst in the melted snow that she drank. She would have given her arm for a salad - something green and crisp. Diren found a few brown plants under the snow, and boiled them into a palatable tea, but they did nothing for her cravings.
She didn't complain. She'd fought long and hard to come on this journey, had filled out a mountain of paperwork, spoken eloquently in front of the finance boards, and she'd be a dairy sow before she regretted the choice. She'd seen so much, come so far - though she longed to be warm again, and lift her arm and find strength in it, she didn't speak of regrets. It was hard enough to speak at all; she saved that strength to pretend she was better than she was.
Instead, she dreamed. It was too much effort to stay awake, and there was little to do beyond watch the snowpot and refill it, so she spent her days and nights in a half-slumber, unsure in the darkness of the snowhouse if she was awake or asleep, bundled in her clothes and sleeping furs. Sometimes she was lying down, sometimes half-propped up on their supply bags, but it was like being underwater - gravity was less important than light, and she couldn't tell what was up or down, only where the fire was. Sometimes it spun around her in drunken waves, and she could only stay as still as possible and remember to breathe.
She dreamt about the folded city.
With no gravity, she walked easily along the perpendicular city streets, and touched the cool surfaces of unmarred walls without feeling chilled. She found windows to look into, and was startled find that if she looked at them obliquely, they were filled with ancient luxury. She could see the hanging tapestries that were like vibrant mimics of the threadbare, faded museum hangings preserved in Faarar, and make out ornate wooden tables and couches spread with embroidered pillows. There were candles in beautiful time crystal spheres, and delicate pottery, but when she turned to inspect them - curious to compare their shape to the pottery she knew from the museums and temples, the rooms would be empty, without ceilings, and ravaged by time again.
The walls were cracked with blue light - shattered like glass in blue threads and chips. As if the walls had turned to thin opaque glass and been broken, and then backlit in blue. They felt as cool and featureless as ever - like some bizarre kind of marble, but lacking in even that much texture.
In some places, sand had poured in, and filled the ruined buildings, as if an ocean had once lapped through the streets. She knelt, and let a handful run through her fingers, and it sparkled blue at her, like the haze of a time crystal sphere. The sand fell away from her and down, though she stood at right angles to the horizon in the folded city without trouble.
She blinked, and found that she could see the fire in the darkness in her hand, and could not decide if she was awake or asleep.
Diren was with her here - in the ruins, not in the snowhouse. "I am all right," she assured him automatically. He was so worried about her, and so kind. She felt so guilty for being the weakest in their party, and turned to squeeze his hand. "I am all right," she repeated.
"Drink," he said, and she grimaced without meaning to.
He held a cut-crystal glass, but it wasn't water, it was blue and glowing, and she knew that if she drank it, it would be like touching time crystals, and burn her flesh from her bones. "I can't drink that," she told him anxiously, taking the glass anyway.
"You must," Diren insisted, and she nodded.
This was only a dream, she decided, and she trusted even dream-Diren. She wondered where he'd found the glass, as she obediently tipped it back and drank down the glowing liquid. It burned into her like time itself, and her vision cleared and expanded. She could see... everything. She could see everywhen, standing in the ruins, seeing them ruined in the now, and glorious in the then with the sky properly above instead of tilted to one side, and almost nothing in the to-be. She could see the people, as they lived their short little lives and saw only their own moments in that place, and saw herself, curled asleep in the snowhouse. High above, yet every detail clear and crisp and achingly clear. It was overwhelming. Everything at once, in a single moment, and her head began to ache.
"Can you hold the cup?" he asked, and she wondered at the idea, because she was already holding it, but when she told him that, he couldn't hear her voice. She was in too many times, she thought in sudden panic. She was in all the times, but not enough of her was in the one she needed to be in; she was stretched too thin between them. She wondered, in curious clarity, if she was half-transparent to him, hardly existing in that when, or if she was solid, and it was only her mind that was between the times.
When she tried to explain this to Diren, the words were garbled and irrational.
The words didn't sound as if they were coming from her, she realized. It was as if she was listening to fast, clipped conversation in another language. This made her think of the Slunai speech, and she wondered at the idea that she had picked up their language; she could read basic parts of it, haltingly, but had never mastered speaking it.
There was a pungent smell that seemed to clear her head, and the city succumbed to gravity and fell away from her vision in pieces, leaving the crowded snowhouse behind. It was more crowded than usual, she finally recognized, tasting a strange, thick aftertaste in her mouth. Twice as many bodies were packed into the space as there ought to be, and half of them were unfamiliar. She was propped up against Diren, the weakness in her limbs convincing her at last that she was awake again.
"You're... strangers," she observed in delight, and a chorus of rich laughter answered her. She could hear the relief in Diren's familiar chuckle, and there was Malaamig's brief noise of amusement; the other laughs were unrestrained and bright, filling the tiny space.
"This land was supposed to be uninhabited," Margaa said, cheerfully accusing.
She yawned then, and a thickly accented voice said gently, "She'll sleep now."
Margaa wanted to protest; she was tired of dreaming, but whatever had been in the creamy drink they gave her was doing its work too well. Diren gently tucked her down into her furs and kissed her forehead.
For the first time in uncountable days, sleep came without dreams.