I opened the door.
A woman sat inside the room, in which the walls, ceiling, and floor precisely matched the dark indigo of her skin. She perched atop a narrow pillar, her ears long and pointed and her hair an old-ivory yellow. Though one would think sitting on a pillar was not comfortable, she was; her ankles crossed, her dress undyed linen, and her feet bare, she held a golden circle in her hands, and in its center hovered a thin lens made of water.
As I watched, she laughed. Color danced across the watery lens, indistinct and blurry from my viewpoint.
I stepped closer to see.
She looked up. “Oh, hello.” She smiled, revealing teeth as sharp as if she’d filed them. “Did you want to watch?” And she turned the lens to face me.
Upon its surface, which rippled with her breath, danced a cast of characters in costume, pratfalling and posturing with such grandiosity that I could not help but laugh, too. Some ridiculous plot unfolded beneath their skillful fingers, involving love triangles (always a favorite, regardless of species), illegitimate children, and a dubiously inheritable throne.
It was some kind of fey soap opera. Falling somewhere between clownish tragedy and romantic comedy, it shone with vibrancy and humor in this dark, underground world.
“What is it you wish, stranger?” asked the blue woman as a beautiful fey man wearing animal fur pretended to trip across the stage.
I’d almost forgotten at the discovery of the lens. Shame stole any accompanying joy. Could I possibly fail Toma further? “This boy is hurt.” I held him up.
She waved her hand over the lens, and the water fell right out of it to splash on the floor, leaving its empty golden circle behind. This she tossed casually onto the table as she slid off her pillar to join me. “He has lost blood,” she said professionally, then recoiled. “He is human.”
I wasn’t sure what else the boy was supposed to be. “Yes. Rai said you can help.”
She looked at me for, I suspect, the first time since my entry. Studied me from helm to stern, puzzlement and irritation warring on her features. “What are you?”
I misunderstood and gave her my name. “Night.”
She shuddered, recoiling further. “What do you want?”
I thought I’d said that already. “This boy is hurt. I would like him to be hurt no longer.”
She looked from him to me in total confusion. “If that is what you wish.” The wall behind her, though smooth, hid numerous cabinets. The shade of paint hid whatever mechanism she used to open them as her fingers touched the wall. “Here.”
The ointment she rubbed onto Toma’s throat smelled like rotten guts and old fish, but even as I gagged, his color came back to him. She’d essentially replenished the iron and other nutrients he’d lost by bleeding, via absorption through his skin. Deeply handy, yes?
“There. Now, go. Remember me, when you come into power,” she said.
I had absolutely no clue how to answer this, and nothing Horse had taught me was sufficient. So, trying to look competent, I nodded and left.
Toma slept now, the quality of his rest completely different from his previous coma. My heart lightened. Perhaps I could keep my promise to him, after all.