The One Who Hears Avendor
Avendor was surprised to discover that The One Who Hears was the same small woman who at answered the door when he and Tiberius had first arrived at the House of Twilight. They found her in one of the rooms on the second floor, seated on a thick Mesinian carpet, sharing a pot of tea with a younger woman. The room was darker than the rest of the house, with only the faintest trace of light by which to see.
“Welcome Nix,” she said without looking up. “And welcome to you, Virsha.”
Do they all call me that? wondered Avendor.
“Please sit,” continued the woman, “and have some light.” Instantly, the room seemed to brighten in response to her words. As with the rest of the house, there was no lamp or flame. Avendor simply found that he could suddenly see more clearly.
“Thank you, Yanah,” replied Nix. From the way he spoke, Avendor could not tell if he addressed her by name, or by some title that he did not understand. “We come bearing troubling news. I took Virsha to the Twilight road so that we could converse in privacy.”
“A dangerous idea, that,” said the woman.
“We remained in place.”
“Even so. The Twilight Road is full of peril. The maelfar are not to be toyed with.”
“Yes, Yanah,” Nix answered. “I understand. I merely thought—“
“Be at peace. I do not chastise. I see your reasoning and it is not wrong. Even so, it is wise to be reminded of that which we may already know. But this is not why you have come to me.”
“No. While we were in the Twilight Road, I sensed another. A stranger’s presence. I attempted to find this person, but they slid away before I was able.”
The One Who Hears said nothing. She merely nodded and raised the small, porcelain cup to her lips. Her gaze was distant and unfocused, and yet somehow she seemed aware of everything around her. After a moment, she lowered the cup again and passed it to her companion, who accepted it and filled it once more. The bittersweet smell of tea leaves and berries filled the room. Silence lingered around them. Soon, Avendor found himself shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
Finally, Nix spoke again. “Have you any knowledge of such a thing?”
“I do.” She paused. Without moving her eyes, she seemed to turn her attention on Avendor for several moments. “I will tell you what I know, though not quite yet.” She turned to her younger companion. “Dear one, would you please fetch the sage. He will not have slept as long as we might have liked, but I believe he will be sufficiently recovered. I also believe he will have an interest in what I have to say, and I would prefer not to repeat myself.”
“Yes, Yanah,” replied the younger woman. Then she was on her feet, so quickly that Avendor hardly saw her stand. She nodded to him and Nix before departing.
“She shows promise,” said The One Who Hears.
“Has she heard the Voice in the Twilight?” asked Nix.
“Not as yet, but I suspect she may. She senses much and is learning to see beyond the light. These are hopeful signs.”
Nix and the The One Who Hears continued to converse at length about the young woman, and then about other matters concerning the gandjai. Avendor did not understand half of it, and the parts that he did were so trivial that be suspected that the conversation was forced and artificial, with the sole purpose of filling the silence. It was a common technique used for distraction, and he could sense that he was the target—though he could not say what they were attempting to distract him from.
He paid it little mind. The gandjai had their secrets—in some ways those secrets formed the very core of who they were. While they did possess many remarkable talents, Avendor had often wondered if one of their greatest weapons might not be the mystery in which they cloaked themselves. People naturally feared what they did not understand, and there were very few people who understood the gandjai.
Still, Avendor was not foolish enough to believe that the gandjai relied strictly on the strength of their reputation. He knew what they were capable of.
When Tiberius arrived, the young woman led him into the room and helped seat him on the floor next to Avendor. He appeared refreshed and rejuvenated—just as Nix had said he would—but there was a tentativeness to his movements, a slowness that suggested a certain degree of discomfort. Avendor doubted that the sage knew why he had been summoned here, and such uncertainty had clearly unnerved him.
“Greetings, Wise One,” said The One Who Hears. “May your feet always find their way.”
“And may your shadow never deepen,” replied Tiberius, surprising Avendor. He had not expected the sage to know the response to such a traditional greeting, though after a moment he supposed that he should not be surprised at all. Tiberius had spent the better part of his life at the palace. He was bound to have encountered the gandjai from time to time, and picked up on some of their ways.
“I have been asked a difficult question,” continued The One Who Hears. “The answer, I believe, will be of some interest to you. This is why I have asked you to join us.”
“I understand,” said the sage.
“A stranger in the Twilight Roads. You ask, dear Nix, if I know of such a thing. As I have told you, I do. There has been one who has run the Twilight Road for some years now, one who is not from among us, but who is close to us nonetheless.”
“This stranger did not seem close,” said Nix. “He ran from me.”
“As well he should. The stranger you felt is not the one of whom I speak.”
“Your question was whether I knew anything about a stranger in the Twilight Roads, not if I knew of the one you encountered. For now, still your mind, dear Nix, and listen, and know the truth. For the stranger of whom I speak is no stranger at all.
“His name was Jayslen Rayderon.”