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424 years after colonization,
He never saw visions of his own future, not Vinni T'Vine, the Prophet of Celta. No, he only experienced occasional tightening of the muscles at the back of his neck and dread slithering down his spine. Usually those symptoms indicated a threat to his HeartMate, Avellana Hazel.
Tonight the feeling morphed into the regular nightmare and he suffered through the horrific dream in his own ancestral bed. The vision where he held a pale Avellana, her gaze fixed on his, her last breath coming out with an I love you, Muin, then her eyes losing the lifespark and fogging with death. From the plague.
But even dreaming he knew the plague had finally been beaten back, this particular deadly one mastered and not to return to decimate the colonists of Celta. Healers now knew how to treat that sickness, to triumph over it.
Then his lover faded from his arms to stand waving at him from a balcony, and the balcony broke and she plummeted down onto unforgiving flagstones. He wrenched his mind from the sight, only to see her motionless and dead pale on the grass of a Druida City park, a poisoned candy in her hand.
More recent dangers giving rise to new visions.
WAKE UP! His heart gave a huge and heavy thump. He felt the warmth as if it had pounded outside his chest, groggily lifted his hand, and touched the soft fur of his Familiar Companion, a housefluff-a rabbitlike creature. With every stroke his breathing steadied along with the pulse surging in his blood, the twanging of his nerves.
Long soft ears brushed his face as Flora lowered her head. He felt the slightest damp touch of her smooth tongue on his cheek.
The rest of him was damp, too. He lay in his own sweat, the coverlet unable to draw away the amount of perspiration he'd emitted.
Only a few seconds had passed since he'd held a limp Avellana-no, opened his eyes so he'd see Flora, the embroidered canopy above him, rather than-
Yes, his Fam touched noses with him. He reached with all his senses for Avellana, felt their bond as open as usual. He'd instinctively hidden his fear from her. From her pulsed creativity and art and . . . a hint of spirituality . . .
Nevertheless, he needed to go to her.
He looked around him and blinked at the soft golden light-dawn? Hadn't he had an appointment at T'Elder's at dawn? Maybe that was yesterday?
Not dawn, Flora said mentally. Sunset. Dinner soon.
And the memories of the day wheeled in his head.
"I fell asleep?" he rasped, still confused by everything except that his HeartMate lived. He glanced at the viz panel that had stopped floating above the bed where he'd been watching a comedy, then turned his head to see that it had folded itself and lay on the cabinet next to the bed.
Yes, you napped, Flora said.
"I don't nap," he said stiffly. "Sometimes I rest. And it's been a long day after a long night." He sighed. "As the official birth Oracle, I attended the birth of the Honey twins last night. I also kept my consultation appointments today."
The babies were beautiful.
"Yes, but the night stretched. GraceLady Mignontette Honey complimented you on your fur and thanked you for your help."
Flora sniffed. She has useless FamCat.
"Who will be fine with the babies."
He removed Flora from his chest but felt the burden of a vision unreleased, unresolved, untold. Even though he'd sensed Avellana was fine, he needed to see her. Make sure she lived and glowed with health and stayed safe. Defend her if any threat appeared.
Currently she lived on Mona Island, where he'd convinced her to go three months ago, the last time he'd felt danger to her in Druida City.
"Residence." He spoke to the intelligent house itself, T'Vine Residence. "In fifteen minutes, inform the Family I will not be joining them for dinner." He'd be gone by then, teleported away.
Again? Flora didn't have much facial expression, but she scrunched her nose, lifting her upper muzzle from two big front teeth. Her ears twitched, then angled. You skip dinner more than one this waxing twinmoons, more than two. They will talk and talk and talk, and yammer and yammer and yammer, and argue and-
"I hear you, Flora." He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Like the cover, his clothes should have wicked away the sweat, but he figured those daily spells had worn away after the long and stressful consultations he'd had today. He rubbed the back of his neck, drying it, flaking away old sweat.
"I need to see Avellana, to teleport to her."
Again? A grass-scented huff came from his Fam. I will go, too. Avoid the talk and yammer. Though you will argue. Better you argue with FamWoman because you want her to stay away from the city with many scaries and she supposed to come home tomorrow.
True. Any time he'd sensed danger to his HeartMate since she'd been five, he'd persuaded her Family and Avellana to leave Druida City.
His whole body tensed, his nostrils widened, and he caught the odor of his own distress, the general smell of his suite-sunshine and an herbal mix he liked-and Flora. He should clean up. He couldn't take the time. Yes, his whole spine stiffened, his muscles taut with warning. "Boots on," he ordered rustily, not thinking he could handle that physically. They formed around his feet and calves.
He needed Avellana, his love, his HeartMate . . . though they had not HeartBonded yet. They'd promised their Families they'd wed first. Because they belonged to two of the highest-status Families, such an alliance demanded long negotiations of the marriage contracts, planning, and formal rituals. Two years' worth of delays.
He'd only shared a few instances of intimacy, sexual teasing, and petting with Avellana. Only three real sessions of lovemaking. Just thinking about that hurt. Physical aching need for her, emotional loneliness that she continued to live apart from him and he couldn't walk into the GreatMistrys Suite and see her. His own fault, that, though it didn't mitigate the hurt . . .
The artist colony on Mona Island was easily within his teleportation range. He scanned for her location, found the nearest empty teleportation pad. "'Porting in three. One and holo, two and-" Flora hopped into his arms and he left.
Dusk had reached the low-lying island sooner than his hilltop castle. Or maybe he'd lingered too long in his bedroom. As soon as they landed in the outside garden, Flora jumped into leafy bushes. He heard munching.
He sensed Avellana in the Circle Temple.
Straining all his Flair, he tried to evaluate each droplet of the atmosphere for threat to her. He felt nothing but didn't trust . . . anything, not even his senses.
He leapt off the teleportation pad and flicked the signal to show that it was available, ran down the path in the direction of the Circle Temple. As he sucked in air, he smelled the heady aroma of flowers, blooms that didn't flourish in T'Vine gardens. Summer scents that spoke of sunshine and heat and the humidity of an island instead of a plateau above an ocean. Around him lush trees and bushes grew in wild abandon, not carefully trained so they wouldn't be a detriment to the security of a FirstFamily castle.
And he couldn't see through those bushes to know if villains lurked.
Like everything else on Mona Island, artists had conceived and built Circle Temple. The stone appeared creamy and mellow in the fading light. As he surged toward the northern door, he found it ajar. His gut clenched. Without thought he teleported to the threshold, shoved the door wide open.
Stopped in surprise when he saw Avellana sitting on the floor, forehead furrowed in concentration as she moved curved fingers in the three-dimensional holo painting she worked on. A comprehensive scan showed him no one else in the one-room building.
Safe! He held his breath so as not to alert her to his panting, his running. He wanted her to stay here longer instead of return to Druida City. The setting where he'd just dreamed of danger. Again.
The small artist colony on an equally small island had kept her safe for three months. But to prevail upon her to stay, he must finesse the situation.
So he stood and watched her and calmed. A sweet jolt had gone through him at the sight of her, as usual, even though those big blue eyes hadn't been aimed his way. He appreciated how the light touched a streak of white in her medium-brown hair, a lock at her left temple that had appeared after her last Passage to free her Flair.
Her old and comfortable clothes didn't display her curves well, but he knew the feel of her breasts in his palms, the curve of her hips.
Brow furrowed, her hand gestured in a wavy motion. A line of textured color deepened the bark of the Ash tree in the center of the Great Labyrinth. He sucked in his breaths gently, let them out quietly, knowing better than to disturb her focus when in the midst of creative expression.
The fact she'd created a holo for the temple piqued his curiosity. She'd left the dominant faith of Celta two years before, the one that worshiped the Divine Couple, the Lord and the Lady. Avellana had become an adherent of the Intersection of Hope religion. That creed had developed on the starships during the centuries-long trip from Earth to Celta.
When she'd learned of the precepts of the Hopefuls, they'd made more sense to her than the doctrine she'd grown up with. So Vinni found it surprising that she sat in the middle of Circle Temple. But on the other hand, she'd only been here on the island for a few months. Not enough time to design an Intersection of Hope chapel and have it built, even if she found other devotees.
She stared at her work, finally nodded and added the deep purple curlicue of her signature, then glanced at him. Of course she'd sensed when he'd arrived on the island and stood in the doorway, even if he'd masked his emotions.
"One moment, Muin, while I finish my project, please," she said coolly.
He did visit her at least once a week when she resided outside Druida City, but she wouldn't have expected him tonight since she'd be back at D'Hazel Residence the next morning.
With a glance at him, her fingers snapped and all the three-dimensional holographic paintings and murals in the temple activated. He missed a couple of steps toward her as he staggered through one of the Lady and Lord planting a garden. He swore he could smell the rich herbs, the equally fertile dark-brown earth.
A joyful dancing tune began and echoed through the huge temple chamber. Avellana stared at him with watchful eyes, so he wrenched his gaze from her to study the art . . . all the art, including the parquet patterns of the wooden floor around the rose-streaked brown marble center stone.
Circles of holograms projected at regular intervals from the middle of the temple to the walls. Marking the size of various ritual circles depending on the amount of people. On the walls hung old-fashioned paintings and tapestries.
He stared at the two-meter, exquisite mural that only Avellana could have done. "I'm surprised you're working on a piece in a temple for a religion you no longer believe in."
"That is not quite true, Muin," she said, standing.
Another pulse of attraction as she said his name. Only his beloved Avellana called him by his given name.
With a Word she removed dust from her clothes. She wore a simple tunic-and-trous set, roomy enough to move around in, of a dull brown . . . and very soft and thin from many cleansings. Her comfort clothes. "I believe the predominant religion is right for those who believe in it, and, of course, it pervades our society so there is no escaping it, so one must acknowledge that. I am also a product of my training and my Family's beliefs; they suffuse and influence me."
She gestured for him to join her, and he did so. As soon as he caught her fragrance, his shaft went hard. With a thought he loosened the front of his trous so they wouldn't bind, and wouldn't show at a glance that he fought for slippery control over his libido. The desire that just standing next to his HeartMate and breathing her scent caused.
Another flick of her fingers and all the paintings and murals vanished except for hers. Unlike most of them, her holo was a perfect lower half sphere reflecting the actual bowl of the Great Labyrinth to the north of Druida City. Studying it, she brought her hands from shoulder width together, and the painting collapsed upward on itself until it appeared like a two-dimensional rendition, hanging vertically. She stepped back a couple of paces and he matched her strides.
Then she angled the painting to horizontal and pushed it down until it touched the floor and the center round stone and matched the keystone in size. Muttering encouraging words to herself under her breath that Vinni couldn't quite catch, she sank her painting into the stone, so the top of the stone showed her work. Long minutes passed and sweat beaded her forehead.
With the lightest brush of his fingers, Vinni touched her temple and whisked the excess moisture away. She chanted a couplet, fast and loud, that rang in his ears, shouted, "Engrave and Set in Stone!" and clapped her hands. Flair surged through the room, knocking Vinni back a step, sending shudders rippling through his body. Secondary creative psi power or not, Avellana matched him in the potency of her Flair.
She moved to the middle of the temple and crouched, scrutinizing the circular center stone that now showed her painting. It looked perfect to Vinni. She turned and grinned at him, nearly danced to him, the satisfaction of fulfilled creativity limning her face. His less-spiritual self yearned for a different kind of fulfillment with her as he recalled her face during climax. Do not think of that. Shut it down and up and behind a solidly locked door.
After taking his hand, she quickly dropped it, stepped aside, and focused her gaze on her painting. She inhaled and exhaled, then raised her arms and said, "Activate the holo mural titled 'Great Labyrinth.'"
Around them the Great Labyrinth formed, filling the room. The rim of the crater matched the top of the walls before they gave way to the dome of the temple. In the three-dimensional mural, Vinni stood at the exit from the center onto the meditation path that wound up the bowl.