“What do you mean, you didn’t see them at first?” Sifani could tell that her nerves were frayed. The question she directed at Jatan came out as if he were a suspect instead of a friend.
Jatan took it with equanimity, of course, spreading his hands. “Antian, Namiss and I were all watching you the entire time you were canvassing. It wasn’t until the first creature attacked you that it became visible to us. The second one only appeared when it touched Lorin. It was as if they didn’t exist – at least, outside the epheria – until the moment they made contact with you.
Sifani drew her brows down thoughtfully, glancing at Lorin out of the corner of her eye. He had his feet kicked up on a chair as though he’d not a care in the world, but his whole body seemed to be covered in bandages. She found herself feeling sympathy for him, and turned away quickly.
“A creature of the epheria,” she murmured to herself, “that’s only transferred to the visible world when it comes in contact with a creature of the visible world.” Sifani’s conjecture in the midst of the battle hadn’t been far off, but it hadn’t been close enough to help them, either. “As soon as Ileniel arrives, we can ask him if he’s ever read of such a thing.”
“Until then, the question remains.” Antian said, idly tapping the tabletop with a finger. “How did those creatures get into the epheria in the first place? Where did they come from? You’ve been in there many times, Sifani, Lorin – it’s always been a perfect reflection of the real world, hasn’t it?”
Lorin nodded, tugging on the bandage wrapped around his left hand as if it were a gauntlet. “A perfect reflection,” he agreed. “So, it must be that something put the creatures there.”
Sifani felt a chill. When she looked up at the others, though, all except Jatan were staring at Lorin as if he had lost his mind.
Though Lorin didn’t look up from his hand, he went on as though he had stared right back into those disbelieving pairs of eyes. “Think about it. If everything in the epheria exists in the real world, but something new suddenly shows up in the epheria, it only follows that it had to have been put there – created there.”
“A monster created in the epheria, for the epheria.” Antian began speculatively. “Or, was it created in the epheria, yet for the real world?”
Namiss had been sitting sullenly apart from the others, her cheeks propped on her hands. The only time she got like this was when something bad happened to a member of the group, her own self not included, of course. She finally spoke, though. “How could anyone create something in the epheria?” The skepticism in the girl’s voice bordered on contempt. Deities, but Namiss hated it when those she cared about were met with danger.
“We do it all the time,” Lorin countered.
“You don’t create, you destroy. You break down objects into dust, or…water.” Namiss glanced at Sifani with a slight, appreciative smile. “Creating something would be the reverse of everything you’ve been practicing.”
Lorin shrugged. “Maybe not. Maybe it’s just the reverse side of the coin.” To demonstrate, he slipped a gold quint from his pocket and flicked it toward Namiss flirtatiously. Namiss caught it in one fist and threw it at his chest.
“Lorin’s right,” Sifani said.
Namiss grimaced at her. Sifani thought that was because she had sided with Lorin, until Namiss continued, “I wish that you hadn’t said that, Sif. Because if Lorin really is right, and someone created the dog-creatures in the epheria, the person who did has to be unimaginably powerful – much more powerful than either you or Lorin.”
“Yes.” Sifani put her palms down on the table, staring through it.
She saw Lorin’s head come up suddenly, and he looked at her oddly as if realizing something. She met his eyes with a challenging stare, but instead of giving her a roguish grin as he was wont to do, Lorin worked his lower lip. That was something he only did when in deep and serious thought.
It wasn’t until the group dispersed for their rooms that Sifani thought about Lorin’s strange reaction again. She had left Namiss behind in the central room and was padding back down the corridor alone, when a soft footfall joined with hers. Nerves still in alert, she spun with fists brandished – right into Lorin.
He caught both her fists in his large hands, and before Sifani could say a word, he turned her about and began hustling her – as gently as a person can hustle someone – toward her room by the shoulders.
“We need to talk,” he whispered grimly.