Sir Ayren didn't talk while they walked. He stayed quiet until they came to a cozy room with bookshelves on all sides and a tidy desk in the center. Neat stacks of paper sat in a row across the desk, alongside some pencils and dusty scrolls. The rest of the desk didn't seem to be dusty; its rich deep brown surface glistened in the light that fell from the small square of glass in the ceiling. Apparently the study was on the top floor.
“This is my study.” Sir Ayren said. “It's always open, but I always ask others to not enter without my permission.”
His distressed attitude from before was gone, replaced with the more grand and open Ayren whom Lu had first met.
Lu looked around again, noticing more and more about the room. The bookshelves held books, of course, but in addition to that, there were odds and ends, tiny metal and wooden and cloth objects that seemed to have no meaning—more trinkets than Lu could keep track of. Small baskets held pencils and paintbrushes, acting as bookends, separating each shelf into several groups of books. There were sculptures in the study, too. Small people and birds and even story creatures like dragons. Through the gaps between the bookshelves, Lu could see lines of deep blue wall. Oddly, nothing else was blue. Lu had expected more of the color.
“So,” Ayren said lightly, “Do you want to talk about what made you cry? Or should that wait?”
“Not yet.” Lu didn’t want to talk about Fin to anyone. Not anyone.
“Are you sure?”
“Alright. Would you mind if I show you something? It’s… Well, I can’t explain. But I also can’t explain anything else without showing you…” He paused, confused. “May I show you?”
Lu nodded again.
Ayren smiled faintly, suddenly seeming distant, maybe even wary. He cocked his head, looking at Lu with half closed eyes. Turning, he opened a door Lu hadn’t noticed before and disappeared into it with a hurried “come”.
Lu followed, confused by the sudden change of mood. Peering through the door as she approached it, she could see into another room, and that one was much stranger than she had expected.
Everything—everything—was blue. The walls, ceiling, the old scratched wood floor, and the one wooden chair in the middle. Not only was everything blue, but there was only one shade of blue. The same sky-blue as Ayren’s eyes. The chair appeared to be the only piece of furniture, leaving the rest of the square room clear and empty. And so blue.
Lu turned to look at every empty wall, reaching a hand to stroke the blue painted wall as she stepped closer to the chair.
What was this room for?
"This room," Ayren said reverently, "Is for listening. We must be very quiet in here. Silence helps increase the volume of what we most want to hear."
Confusion growing, Lu let her hand drop from the wall as she gazed at Ayren. He stood tall and bold on the other side of the chair, back toward Lu. He was acting so odd.
Or this could be his normal self, Lu noted. She had only been here for a day, and her first impressions of Ayren might have been wrong. He could still be crazy, even with his smile and strange way of saying things.
"But this may not even be the room for you. You must see the other rooms." A hint of excitement was back in his voice, lending confidence to Lu.
He turned again, opening yet another invisible door in the back wall. The next chamber was black, all one color like the blue one but dark and frightening. Instantly Lu thought of Mistress Silver and almost shivered.
Ayren entered the black room without hesitating, leaving Lu to hurry after him. The thought of being alone in any of the monochromatic rooms was unsettling.
Ayren passed through the black room without a word, opening another door into a white room. A white, bleached, frighteningly clean room.
Unlike the others, the white room had more than a chair. Half of the ground was clear and empty, exhibiting another worn floor. Contrasting with the emptiness was the pile of objects occupying the other side. Chairs, small trinkets, sheets and sheets of white paper, all kinds of white things glared at Lu like rolled-back eyes, or maybe eyes without pupils, but either way all the white was glaring, hurting Lu’s eyes and creating odd, off-white shadows that stood out awkwardly against the pure whiteness of everything.
In this room Ayren was a black splotch, a hole of not-white, an anchor to keep Lu’s frantic mind from losing control and letting her bolt, run away from this awful room.
"It's better if you close your eyes," Ayren offered. "This room isn't for seeing."
Lu’s eyelids snapped shut without her telling them to, and calm started coming back to her. Relief was what she felt, standing in the half empty white room.
"This room is partly for listening, and partly for feeling." Ayren said, voice level. Feeling helps listening. Senses can sometimes… overlap."
With her eyes shut, Ayren's voice was all Lu could hold onto. The temperature was medium, so halfway between cold and hot that Lu had to focus to notice it. Not cold, not even chilly, not warm, but not… what was it? It was like in spring, when the sun would be warm, but a steady breeze canceled it out, blowing the blanket of warmth just out of reach. But the sun was always as steady as the wind was stubborn, and warmed things anyway, like hearts could be warmed with a patient persistence… but the breeze always came back, and cold winds foretold winter, and hearts could stop, one beat at a time running out of thumps until the cold could grab them and squeeze, crush and end. Then the cold would gently set the heart down, leaving it in the snow, a cold thing now. But hearts weren't meant to be cold.
And Lu wasn't meant to be in the cold memory, she was supposed to be in the white room, hearing the words Ayren was saying. And suddenly she jerked back to the room, away from cold and wind and spring. Back with Ayren.
Her eyes were open, seeing the unbalanced room again. There was another door, but on the right-hand wall. It was a double set of doors. Lu hoped to the stars that Ayren wouldn't open it. The rooms were too strange. Words didn’t even explain the feeling of empty and huge and small all at the same time, or the feeling of… fake? Lu’s mind trailed and retraced and hurried and thought, but nothing came. There was no name for the feeling.
Feeling so lost, Lu stared at the pile of white objects. What was real suddenly felt odd, strange, and big. Bigger than Lu. Bigger than anyone. Or everyone.
Ayren walked past Lu, going back through the black and blue rooms to his study. Lu stumbled after him, staying just three steps behind him, moving her right foot when he moved his, setting down the left in sync with him. He was wearing boots, and Lu had forgotten shoes again. Ayren's boots were black like the rest of his clothes, but the color wasn't scary on him. It worked. With his blue eyes black probably wasn't all bad. His eyes weren't pretty, but from what Lu could remember of them, they didn't look bad. Keeping her gaze locked on Ayren's shoes, Lu saw through her peripheral vision as they passed through the blue room and into the study again. Only when Ayren closed the door did Lu realize she had been holding her breath, letting it out and gasping in another breath.
Ayren moved to the front of the study, motioning for Lu to join him, and collapsed into the floor and into a cross legged sitting position. Lu had never seen or imagined grown-ups sitting like that before. The sight of Ayren is such a childlike pose almost made her smile, but the strangeness of the rooms was stuck in her mind like a stone in a cobblestone street, or a brick in a mansion's wall, and it wouldn’t let her smile. Lu knew it would probably fade, but it felt too permanent to believe it would evaporate overnight. The fake, fake feeling lodged in her brain seemed as big as her fist and hard as a rock, throbbing and expanding.
Lu sat in front of Ayren, pinpointing her focus on tiny things to distract herself from the fake inside her head. The strands of hair falling over Ayren's forehead, the faint freckles on his nose, the pale blue of his eyes. The stitches on his clothes that held the black pieces together, the way his mouth seemed lopsided as it moved.
Lu snapped her attention to the words he was saying, listening just in time to understand what he had just said.
"I imagine you feel very strange right now. The voices…" Ayren shook his head. A moment stretched by, empty and quiet. Ayren looked down at his lap.
“I’d better start from the beginning.” He said. “I hear voices. Not all the time—only when I listen for them. They tell me things about the future, sometimes the present. If I have a specific question, I can sometimes get an answer, but they’re always hard to understand. They are extremely vague in what they say.”
He looked up.
“But the voices are very specific about you. They told me I needed to find you, and then they told me how to get you here. They told me that you like blue, and that you would faint before you got here and I’d have to be ready to get you out of the sun.”
Confusion replaced Lu’s careful attention, sending her thoughts spinning. The voices talked to Ayren about her. Ayren could know about Fin. He probably already did, Silver had said “his voices” which probably meant Ayren had known before Silver, and he had told her. He knew. What else did the voices know? Lu didn’t speak. Didn’t ask. It took all her strength to keep tears from coming again at the thought of someone knowing about Fin and not understanding.
“I know enough about you to understand that my voices care greatly about you, or perhaps the effect you’ll have on the future. Whatever the source, these voices know the future.”
“What about the past?” Lu heard the question and counted to three before she realized that she was the one who had spoken.
Ayren looked surprised. He pondered the question.
“Not usually. They only speak of the past when—Oh, why can’t I remember? They’ve mentioned things in your past, but other than that I can’t think of any other time.” He tilted his head, curious. “How strange.”
Lu sat silently, waiting for him to talk more. Thoughts becoming more connected and relevant, real questions started coming to her. Why was she important to the voices? If Ayren was lying about what the voices were saying, then he must be crazy, because voices in a person’s head couldn’t be normal.
“Those rooms I just showed you are among the only places I can hear the voices. Since it's clearest when I'm surrounded by blue, that's what I call the voices. Blue."
Blue only lies half the time.
"Blue only lies…" Lu let the phrase fall away into nothing.
Ayren looked up again.
"Half the time." He said, "Half of what Blue says doesn't happen. That could be because the future changes, or because they're liars, or…" Ayren breathed out, halfway between a sigh and a dead word. "Maybe I make things up. Maybe I want to hear some things so badly I hear my own mind pretending to know."
Maybe he was crazy. If half of everything didn't happen what was the use of hearing them in the first place?
"Whatever Blue is—whether they lie half the time or not—they know about you. And they don't lie about you."
Lu couldn't keep the question in.
"What do they say about my future?" Dread instantly welled up inside her as the words slipped between her lips. Did she really want to know?
"They say," Ayren said after a pause, "That you have the ability to hear them. And that I will teach you."
She had the ability? She could hear them?
No she couldn't. She had never heard voices. She would remember if she had.
"I don't hear voices." Lu’s fingers found a small crack in the grain of the wooden floor, tracing it nervously.
"They don't lie about you. You must—"
Lu wanted Ayren to stop talking about the voices. It was as strange as the three rooms, and just as bad because together they both made sense even though they couldn't.
"You're not the only other one. Ren can hear them too."
Ren? His name jerked Lu’s spinning mind to a stop.
Ayren continued, saying, "The voices say he has the greatest potential, the largest capacity to hear the directions and foretellings. You're supposedly the key to finding his ability." His voice turned desperate. "I need you to try to listen."
This was about Ren? Lu was the key? Lu was important—they needed her?
Ayren's eyes were pleading.
Lu ignored the plea, turning her gaze to the side.
"Lu, all you need to do is try to listen in the blue room. Then we'll know."
In the blue—No! Lu would never go in the rooms again. Even if the Ayren's voices said she should. Even if the voices were real, and Ayren wasn't crazy, she still didn't want to be in the rooms with the blue walls, or white clutter, or black emptiness.
"Please, Lu," Ayren reasoned calmly, "You don't even have to do it now. But will you consider it? Try it another day?"
"Not right now." Lu’s tensed muscles twitched as she tried to relax. Ayren waited a moment, then stood, reaching a hand to pull Lu up. When she stood next to him, her eyes came up to the middle of his chest.
Lu tried to breathe evenly, but the tightness of her muscles wouldn't let her to more that silently gasp in a breath of air every few seconds.
Ayren looked at Lu and smiled, but his smile wasn't as full as his others had been. A flicker of doubt made one side of his mouth twitch, and the muscles below his eyes relax. For a moment his smile stayed that was, then a brighter one replaced it.
"We must get to our lessons," he said happily. "Mythology is almost done."
He opened the door into the hallway, gesturing for Lu to exit.
Lu walked past Ayren with steady steps. Behind her, she heard as Ayren shut the door and followed Lu, leaving the study empty and silent. The air shifted through the halls, gently brushing against Lu’s face. The air was fresher out of the study, away from the rooms of fake and in front of Sir Ayren.
"Lu," Ayren said as Lu continued to walk, "The lesson room is this way." Lu turned to see him pointing in the opposite direction. She nodded and walked after him, relaxing more with each step she took towards Henna and Ren in the lesson room.
It was over. The pain was over.
Author Notes: This is an important section, so I need feedback now more than ever. Thanks for reading! I hope people are getting this far.