Nico ambled away from the main hubbub of the party, and found Daaren on the veranda, apparently watching the gardens. She propped herself up next to him, and asked conversationally, "So, why'd you leave?"
The view from the shoulder of the Tellanot - that's a mountain, in case you didn't know - is amazing. If you inch right to the edge of the cliff, and lean forward, You get a feeling almost like falling up into the sky.
I guess I was caught up in admiring it a bit too much, for the next thing that happened was that I fell down past the ground; the edge had crumbled. I twisted and tried to grab the new edge, and Daaren successfully grabbed my wrist, and well, the usual you'd expect happened. With me down the cliffside and him flat on the path, he said, "Don't look down."
I looked him in the face while trying to find some purchase with my other hand, and feet, and asked, "Sure, but tell me why."
He didn't answer until we were lying both on sound rock, panting, myself more than him. Sound rock has benefits, too.
Then he answered, "I thought you might get stupid ideas. Like jumping."
Made me laugh until I couldn't breathe at all anymore. Right to the point, that's him.
"Ah, finally we can talk in private, just you and me."
Daaren carefully kept his face blank. Counting two guards and three servants in the room with them, who did not seem about to leave, he concluded the Baron must be completely insane. Better not to irritate him.
On the New Year's party, Marie received a lot of compliments, all including some form of, "you have lost weight!", and she smiled through all of them.
When she retreated to the balcony for a bit of solitude she found it occupied already. The date of someone else's acquaintance, practically a stranger. He also seemed to be quiet, so that was all good. She leaned on the banister, keeping her distance, and he watched her watch the street.
Eventually he asked, "So, how is your health?"
After the initial shock, Marie all but collapsed with relief that someone cared.
When they came in sight if the water, the sky turned black. There was light just as before on the ground, faint shadows falling behind them, but looking up, there was nothing but darkness beyond their beacon. The bicolour trail the bird had left glowed even brighter.
The shore was steep enough that they needed to walk sideways, but it turned into a softer slope forming a sort of beach. There was a smaller copy of this shape at the water's edge, not the continuing slope you'd find on a beach. There were no waves to form it; the surface of the water was perfectly still. The ground was covered in smooth, dark pebbles.
Sylvie crouched and bent her head until it nearly touched the ground to have a closer look.
"If it is this shallow all through, it should be no problem to cross," Daaren said.
"I don't trust it."
Neither did he, but what good would it do? "Looks like a long way to circle around, if it's possible at all. Any idea how to find out if the hunch has merit?"
Sylvie's sigh did not stir the surface. She took another deep breath, and blew. There was the slightest hint of movement. Sitting down cross-legged, a bit back from the edge, she said, "I wonder if it's water at all."
"It's not water. It's not ground. It's not air," Daaren pointed out. What it was was bloody unnerving.
He dipped the tip of a shoe (which was no shoe, either) into the liquid. It rippled, at first faster than water would. The pebbles below disappeared, leaving blackness that could be formless ground, or an infinite void. As the turbulences died down slowly, the pebbles reappeared.
After a rather too long silence, Sylvie said, "Circling around it is." Daaren did not argue.