What Tessa noticed first was the quiet. It was something she prayed for on ordinary days, but with this crowd, it was definitely cause for concern. She twisted around and looked toward the back of the van.
The boys looked uncommonly sober, but it was Julia who drew the eye. Gregarious, intermittently hostile Julia... absolutely silent. Pale. Looking like she'd been kicked in the stomach. Clutching Lyric's hand like a lifeline. The boys' eyes were locked onto Julia, Julia's out the window, Lyric's on Tessa. Pleading.
Tessa cleared her throat. "Julia. Are you okay?"
Julia blinked, turning slowly. Her eyes seemed to take up her whole face, wide and dark and haunted. "I don't want to go."
"We... have to, honey."
She shook her head. "It's pulling at me. It's filling me up."
She's scared. How long has it been since Julia's been scared?
"It's okay. You'll see when we get there. It's just... memory."
"It's too much. It's too many people, it's too much - there's ivy on the walls. I shouldn't know that. I see this random-ass shit, I see railings - I see people - my head is too full of this. And there's going to be more. I don't want to go."
"We can't un-do this."
"I know. I - I don't want to be this thing that you want me to be."
"You are the Lishaya whether you ever set foot in Shayara or not. You are the Lishaya even if you run away now and never see another Dasaroi again."
"I know," Julia whispered. And then: "Look. The gates."
The gates rose in front of them... massive, fog-shrouded. Strange to think that those without Dasaroi blood would just drive right by...
Julia gave a shuddery sigh. "The gates. And right inside, the mural they painted. And the Library. Fuck, I remember the Library. I don't want this. I don't want this."
At the border now. "Are you ready?"
"No." Head down. Another shuddery sigh, and she threw her head back; eyes closed, jaw clenched. Opened her eyes. "Fuck. Okay. Drive."
It was a tangible pressure on flesh and mind... one Tessa always loved. Warmth and welcome. Like a change in air-pressure when one passes through. The world outside Shayara always felt so muted; this felt like a transition from black-and-white to color, Oz-like, but encompassing all the senses. Beside her Adam gave his accustomed happy sigh. The boys relaxed in their seats.
And Julia convulsed, screaming.
Tessa unbuckled, mentally cursing herself for not having thought to be back there with the girl in the first place. "Julia, it's okay, honey, I'm coming - can you hear me?" No response but the ragged cry. "Adam, slow down! Get to the Library. Back way, do you know how? Good." She thrust her phone at Napalm on the way back. "Speed-dial 3. Get Donna or John. Tell them we have a Delilah emergency. Tell only them we're going to the back door."
She laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. Simplified. "Napalm. Get Donna. Okay?"
She got to the back seat, where Julia was full-fetal and throwing out a near-physical manifestation of her panic. Hell, had to get rid of that if only so Napalm could make the call. She spared another pat on the shoulder for poor little Lyric, who Julia had thrown across the backseat in her first spasm. Okay, little sister. "Julia."
"Julia." And she touched her sister's shoulder.
And the world broke. Shattered. Oh, gods, this hurt - too many pieces, too many lives, all trying to jam themselves together, all trying to make sense of this. Hysterical. Drowning. Tessa, losing herself in them. Oh, gods, Julia, help me... Julia, where are you?
Tessa was barely conscious of the van stopping, of Adam scooping Julia up in his arms. It was Johnathan who kept her standing, kept her moving in contact with the girl, hands clasped to her hands, mind trying to encompass hers. She registered worried faces as they descended the stairs to the basement. John, hair in his face, leading the way down. Donna following, near-panicked, near-flying around the corners of the landings. Adam laid the weakly-flailing girl down gently on a bed, and Tessa knelt to one side of her, Donna the other. Donna looked at Tessa over Julia’s tensed body. “Is she…?”
Tessa shrugged helplessly. “She just freaked out,” she replied, cursing herself for sloppy syntax as she did so. “We crossed the border, and it was as if all of her lives rushed back in at-“
“Lara?” Julia whispered hoarsely.
Donna reached down with a trembling hand. “Who are you?”
“Isobel. Lishaya na’li Dasaroi. Do you not know-“ She stopped, half-risen from the bed, taking in her surroundings.
“I remember you, Isobel. But this is not your time,” Donna said gently.
Isobel gave a small smile and patted her hand. “That’s all right, then. We persevere.”
“Isobel – there seems to have been a bit of a riot going on in your head. Can you help us sort that out?”
“Mmm. Under the Library, are we?”
“I thought so. It feels calm here. That helps. I think-“ She frowned. “It feels like we haven’t been home in a long time. It feels like… that is deliberate. I cannot see why that would be so, but so many of the newer layers are so stubborn. They fight me.” She shook her head. “In any case, they are calming. It’s too late now to fight.”
Isobel smiled. “You are welcome, child. Oh, and…wait.”
She shifted. As from Julia to warm Isobel, now to… someone else. Something else. She opened her eyes… Julia’s had been guarded, Isobel’s had been merry, but this one’s eyes were… clear.
Donna began visibly trembling. “You…”
The girl took one of Donna’s hands in both of hers, kissed it, and brought it to rest over her heart. “It’s all right, Keeper’s daughter. Read me.”
Donna closed her eyes and opened her mind, finding confirmation of what she’d known the instant the girl shifted. Who would fail to recognize her? Still, because she’d been asked: Spiralling back through Julia, through Isobel, through everyone… back to a sun-dappled grove and a beautiful girl who had kissed her awake, thousands of years ago.
She opened her eyes and met the girl’s smile. “Mother,” she whispered. “Welcome home.”
Tiala na’Roth squeezed her hand. “I will need your help, Keeper’s daughter. This… Julia… she has been… broken. And imperfectly healed.” Words seemed to fail her. “She will need help.”
“I will help her. And you.”
She nodded. “This body needs to rest.”
Donna felt a pang of disappointment. “Of course, Mother.”
Tiala pulled her in gracefully and kissed her fingertips… then kissed her brow, an echo of the first kiss. Tears rolled unbidden down Donna’s cheeks. “I love you,” her goddess said quietly, and left.
Julia looked so young and so small nestled on the bed. For the first time, Donna noticed dark circles under her eyes. Poor kid. She met Tessa’s astonished eyes. “Tessa, you did it. You brought her home.”