Ari Hastur, the youngest Keeper of Hali Tower, came out of sleep reluctantly, his mind screaming in fatigue, each bone aching with the effort of rising. But there was someone at the door, an annoying presence, insistent.
All right, all right. He swung his legs free of the blankets and balanced on the edge of the bed, head in hands. His temples ached with a dull, pounding throb, eroding his concentration. Still, with a flick of thought, the barest mental touch, he gleaned the identity of his visitor.
Dyan? Why was his friend standing outside the door of his suite in broad daylight, while all sensible matrix workers were asleep? Ari struggled to wake completely, then touched his friend's mind and said through the link: I am awake, Dyan. Come in.
The door swung open and Dyan Syrtis came into the room. "Gods, you look awful," Dyan said after a moment's silent appraisal. "What have they been doing to you?"
Ari groaned. He knew the sight he presented: face too white, eyes too dark, hair uncombed and disheveled. Leander Aillard, the Tower's senior Keeper, had set him on a grueling schedule. "Leander's put me to a circle of eight. Altons, all of them. The energy pounds through me until I think I cannot endure it!"
Dyan put a cautious hand on Ari's shoulder, the lightest of touches. Ari forced himself not to flinch under the pressure of his friend's hand; that was another thing about his training: he had become so sensitized that he did not like to be touched. He had been told that in time he would master this problem, that he would not spend his whole life shrinking from the touch of his closest friends. But he would never again be able to tolerate casual contact with strangers. That was the price he must pay.
"Leander means no harm," Dyan said gently. "It is just that--" Dyan shrugged. "Well, with Lord Coryn gone, you are the Hastur now. Leander is a competent matrix worker, but he is not a Hastur."
"Sometimes I wish I wasn't one either." That thought had been with him often lately. He had come to Hali unwilling, but had, in time, found a sort of peace there. But now, with Coryn gone, the pressure for him to take over all of Coryn's duties was almost overwhelming.
Ari lowered his eyes, feeling again the guilt that always came with the memory of his father's sacrifice, the destruction of almost unimaginable laran powers to save Ari, his only son, from a deadly trap. "I know what my father gave up for my sake. Do not think I am ungrateful. But sometimes I fear I can never replace him, and it is hard to walk in his shadow."