I sat alone in my room, watchful of what the darkness might bring, yet grateful for the solitude. Through the window I could see the last crimson light dying in the west. Night would be falling soon.
I looked around the room, ascertaining that I would be safe. I decided that I would be. Nobody would walk in on me - I couldn't lock my door but I had taken one of the chairs and shoved it under the door handle. The window was too high off the ground for anyone to enter without me noticing and I had decided to leave it open - I would need the fresh night air to keep me alert.
I sat down on my bed, removed my boots, loosened the collar of my tunic and stretched out on the bed, letting my head sink back into the cool, smooth pillow. The red stone was sitting on a small table at the side of the bed, glowing red with light that seemed to come from within, rather than from outside.
I lay back and listened. In the palace gardens outside the evening chorus of birds was dying down, leaving only the chirping of the crickets, the sound of running water and the barely audible rustling of the wind in the trees. I turned my attention to the palace itself. The place was alive with little sounds, as large, old buildings are - old wood creaking, people hurrying down the corridors, and other sounds that kept me guessing at their source and nature. Nothing to worry about, I told myself. Everything's fine.
Breathing slowly, I stretched out my senses to scan for any signs of danger. Nothing. I was as safe as I would ever be in this place. I reached out, took the stone and held it up so that I could look straight into its core.
"You and I are long due for a nice, long talk," I told it. "Why not have it now?"
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, willing myself to relax, and turning my attention away from the outer world.
I took a deep breath and stepped out into the other place. Darkness, and the echoes of my own heartbeat fading away. Silence. Emptiness.
For a moment I was disoriented, and I could feel my body stir. Relax, I told myself. Agromas trained you better than that.
I willed myself to be standing on firm ground, my body upright and my mind alert. I opened my hands. The stone wasn't there.
I took a deep breath and eased my attention toward the stone that was resting in my closed fist on my chest. I allowed the sensation of its round shape and its smooth surface, warm against my skin, to drift through my consciousness. Concentrate, I told myself. Don't let it get away.
Again I stepped out, maintaining the feeling of having the stone in my hand. Again, darkness and the absence of everything else. This time I was prepared for what I would find and I kept my footing without much effort, the stone still clasped in my fist.
I exhaled, willing the anxiety to flow from my body. Remember your training, I told myself. You know how to do this. But did I? Walking my inner worlds had always been easy for me, something that I had done for as long as I could remember. In fact, this had been what had piqued Agromas' interest in me when my parents told him about it. What had been hard for me, though I had refused to admit that at the time, was controlling my experiences. Agromas had often lost his patience with me, yelling at me again and again to focus, to bend my experiences to my will. I had told him that I was trying while in fact I hadn't been, preferring to go with the flow and explore whatever I would find instead.
It had never been like this. There had always been - something - waiting for me across the threshold, a landscape, a place, something that I could work with. I felt cold, though at the same time I noticed I was sweating. Think, I told myself. You're here for a purpose, and you're not going to leave without finding what you're looking for. Now, focus.
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