Chapter 11: The Pool of Dreams

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Warning: this chapter contains strong language and allusions to child abuse and eating disorders. Reader discretion is advised.

~*~

Dalnushka's pool radiated light. Its bottom was a bed of crystals that glittered in the halo of Nikolay's magefire. Above the pool, curtains of rock wreathed the ceiling in brilliant oranges, whites, and golds, like solidified flames. Had the pool been on Earth, Jane was sure it would have been featured in National Geographic, or at the very least, made into a screensaver.

 Had the pool been on Earth, Jane was sure it would have been featured in National Geographic, or at the very least, made into a screensaver

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The only sound, apart from their breathing, was the slow drip of water, echoing through the cavern.

"What happens now?" Jane whispered. There was something about the Pool that made you want to whisper reverentially; it was not a place for shouting. "Do we drink the water?"

Nikolay gave a mocking bow. "Ladies first."

"How chivalrous."

Jane knelt by the water's edge and touched the pool. The water was ice-cold, so clear she could see every crystal on the bottom. She brought a handful of water to her mouth and touched it to her tongue. It tasted sweet, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Before she could second-guess her decision, Jane took a gulp, then braced herself for magic, or pain, or an onslaught of visions.

Nothing happened.

"Well?"

Nikolay's voice was expectant.

He has no idea what's supposed to happen either. Jane wasn't sure whether to feel vindicated or uneasy. She shrugged. "I don't feel any different. Aren't I supposed to see things?"

"Perhaps the pool found you unworthy."

"If it found me unworthy, I hate to think what it'll make of—"

Jane broke off.

The water of the pool had darkened. Images swam on its surface—a college classroom, her bedroom back home, a room that resembled a morgue. She reached toward her bedroom, and the image expanded, shifting, until she could see small details—the bookshelves, the fake plants, the penguin-patterned coverlet on her bedspread.

"What do you see?" said Nikolay's voice in her ear, but Jane shook her head. Fingers trembling, she reached out farther, until her fingers brushed the surface of the water—

The world around her shifted.

~*~

She was in a hospital room—small, dimly-lit, with one window. The air stank of antiseptic, wood polish, blood. On the bed, a woman hunched over a baby. Tears leaked from her eyes, dripping down on the infant who screamed in her lap.

"I don't know," the woman was crying. "It's too much. I don't know. Stop, just stop crying. Stop crying."

The baby screamed all the louder, her face screwing up in a wail.

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