From the manuscript of the Almanack of Poisones, by Eamon Malfois.
Umbraradix : Also yclept ye Shadowroot. He who falleth under the Spell of this Elixir seeth not what Others see, heareth not what Others hear, butt liveth in a Lande of his owne shaping, compass’d rounde by wicked Men and terrible Beastes, nor can he distinguish Time longe pass’d from Time that passeth from Time yet to come. I have witness’d a Man in ye Thrall of ye Shadowroot come to believe his Wyfe & Sons meant to do him a Mischief, & thereafter did shun them as ye Southren Lande shunneth ye Northren, lest they destroy him utterlie. Ye single Grace offer’d by Fate and ye Gods is that ye Madness endureth onlie when ye Poisone bee drunk constantly, for within a Spanne of some Weekes ye Man who ceaseth to consume it beginneth a Return unto Health. Ye foulest & most rare Poisone, Thanks bee unto ye good Gods, else ye Lande w’d surely have perish’d long before this daye.
Tess was never more beautiful than when she slept, nor her sunset-colored hair brighter in its thick braid, running sinuously over her right shoulder before entangling itself in the bedsheet that lay bunched and casual over her and left one beautiful, pale breast exposed to the dawning light.
The morning sun left half of Kaab’s face in shadow as she sat in a chair west of the bed, and she smiled. Not so many hours earlier, after all, she had found reason to concern herself particularly with that breast, along with its twin, and the results of her attention had been quite satisfactory, or even—well, perhaps best to leave it at “quite satisfactory.” If tended, the warmth in her belly would tempt her to wake her lover from her slumber.
Not that that slumber was particularly restful at the moment. Tess twitched on the bed, muttering incomprehensibly. Her sleep had been troubled for some time, her head-spirit wandering farther and farther through realms invisible to the waking, but for the last three days that trouble had been growing worse; she seemed to spend more time shivering and squirming as she lay unconscious than she spent still, as if she could wriggle her way out of the grasp of whatever danger lurked in her dreams.
Tess’s breath came more quickly now, shallower, her muttering louder, with an undertone of frustrated protest. Impatient. She rolled onto her side, one rounded arm dangling from the bed, the other wrapping itself in the bunched bedclothes, her hand clutching and releasing, clutching and releasing, unable to catch hold of its elusive prey.
Kaab moved back in the chair, drew her legs to her chest, put her arms around them, and squeezed to keep herself from intervening. The one time she had been unable to bear it and woken her, Tess had opened her eyes with a gasp and it had taken many terrifying breaths for her head-spirit to return from the house of dreams. But when Kaab finally asked her what monsters, human or otherwise, had pursued her in that house, Tess remembered nothing—or so she claimed.
Kaab’s lips pressed together and her head turned of its own volition toward the west, and her homeland, and Tultenco—toward the havoc her inability to control her liver had wreaked there, and the lives lost. Ixchel, she begged, do not let me bring Tess to the same end as Citlali. Allow this story to conclude more happily.
A low moan drew her attention back east. Her lover was thrashing now, dampening the bedclothes with sweat. Kaab’s teeth pressed hard into her lower lip. She was a woman of action, and she could do nothing here but wait until—
Tess screamed and her eyes flew open. “No surprise she had it in her!” she gasped.
Kaab knelt beside the bed as her lover lifted herself onto her elbows, panting, her full breasts rising and falling in sharp spasms with her breath. As the fear slowly drained from her face, her breathing steadied.
“No surprise who had what in her?” Kaab asked, as gently as she could. Tess lifted the corner of her upper lip; her eyes shone with perplexity. “What do the words mean, my maize-flower? Of what did you dream?”
Tess pressed her hands together. “Buggered if I know.”
Words too easily spoken, too quickly. Kaab harrumphed. “Buggery is out of the question,” she said, “if you continue to keep from me what is frightening you.”
Tess grunted and turned a look toward the ceiling in a gesture equal parts frustration and pleading. “Nothing. I didn’t see anything.”
“That is not true.”
“Can we just say it’s true and forget about it? It was frightening enough to see without having to talk about it.” She turned her glorious neck until she was staring into Kaab’s eyes. A plea, and an invitation.
Kaab stepped to the bed and sat down, finally able to embrace Tess fiercely, to enfold her lover in the warmth of what protection she could offer, and nosed the crook of Tess’s neck. She spoke in her own tongue.
Eyes by day, dreams by night.
Tess raised an eyebrow in challenge.
“Try, my maize-flower. You...