Chapter 1

It was as a young child I was first taught the ways of Magic. It was my grandparents who taught me, mostly, but even as a baby I learned about the Light, and about the Dream World and about the Gifts. I even learned about accepting the infinite into myself without letting it overwhelm me. Well, I don't think that last one was something I was taught on purpose, but I learned it, nonetheless.

In addition to showing me the Light and the Gifts, my parents taught me the way of the bow and staff. They taught me the depths of the gifts that were shared by few on Arbor but by a growing number in other places. As a babe I was sometimes rocked to sleep in the arms of the High Wizard of Arbor, or spent my day hung on the hip of the Wind of Arbor, an agent of the Spirits. The life my parents lived was much less glamorous, but for all that they chose to drape themselves in mundane trappings, they too were beings of magic. Powerful magic, but all wrapped up in countless years of prophesy, fate, half-truths, lies and unspoken understandings and misunderstandings. The tangle of it frustrated me from the first day I was aware of it, but it was enough that they were content. Let them be.

The Weaver and the Wind stepped aside now and then and let the Earth-born sides of themselves guide me. Andy and Cor show me what I needed to know about the Light, about mathematics and science, and the ways that the pieces of the universe that they knew worked. My great-grandfather Dave stopped by now and then and when he did, I could feel a connection through him to something. I was too young then to know what it was, but I could feel it. Great-grandmother Ginny would see me every year to give me a 'checkup', and it was during these visits that she gave me my first glimpses into the world of a healer. I followed her sight into my own body and the mysteries and marvels thus revealed.

I made my first visit to Earth when I was seven. I was fascinated. Lost, certainly - utterly, utterly lost - but oh so fascinated. I didn't understand why of course, but there was something about the place that I found comfortable, like a favorite pair of shoes.

I was familiar with Earth, Meadow, Precipice, Taluat, Cascade and a half dozen other worlds by the time I was eight. I was a young girl with a close to unique set of experiences that had given me a life that anyone would have called interesting, but it got real interesting when I turned ten and had a birthday party on Meadow. Birthdays were not much celebrated on Arbor, though I was used to it being noted by a good meal or a new set of something to replace whatever I'd grown out of most recently. This birthday was special though. It was this day that began the journey that was my true life and leaves me as I wish to be known.

My name is Sky McKesson, and I am a Walker Between Worlds.

"Sky! Sky! Come on now, everyone's waiting!" came my mom's call from the back of Great Grandpa and Grandma's house. I had been up at the stables, but was already on my way back, but a little too slowly to avoid the parental holler off the back patio, it seemed.

"Coming!" I hollered, as I began running. I knew what was coming, in a roundabout sort of way. Dad had been through this, as had Grandpa Andy and Aunt Serenity. My present would be a block of stone or other material from a new facet and I had to find my way to it using the Light. I had shared my mind with each and all of them, as they had shared theirs with me. I had, in my memories, a 'taste' of their memories of their own birthday blocks and their own discoveries.

"Sorry!" I said as I came through the patio door, heading off any complaints, I hoped. "I was up with the horses."

"You're always up with the horses," Flare said, and everyone laughed in agreement. Flare was unofficial family. His mom and dad were both Awakened, people who'd had the gifts turned on at some point in their lives, but neither of them were Light-sensitive, even a little bit, and the same was true of Flare. Still he'd been around me and my parents his whole life, so he knew the score as far as me being a McKesson went.

"Well, you've already found your horse," I pouted. "I'm still looking for mine." The fact that I believed that I would find 'my' horse someday and that I was adamant in my belief that not just any horse would do, was one of those things that drove everyone in my family crazy. I was going to find mine, I knew it in the way I knew many things. I don't know if its a McKesson thing or an Arbor thing, but given the fact that I have two seers in the family back on Arbor, I'd guess its a combination of the two.

I know things.

Oh, not like you know facts or dates, or numbers or anything like that. More like how you know love and know hunger and know dread. Knowing without understanding; knowing with your gut, not your mind.

Bah! That's twenty-twenty nostalgia, that's all. Besides, I'm getting ahead of the story I'm going back to.

The trick to 'reading' the birthday present, and thus finding the facet it came from, was an old one, and even though I'd spent most of my ten years before that on Arbor and away from the family and the milieu that had sprung up around it and the resurgence of the Guardians, I knew the trick. That's the thing about spending any length of time mind-to-mind with your relatives. Keeping secrets are a bitch, and what you might want to keep secret today, may not have seemed important a few years ago.

I knew the trick.

I had no need to solve the block quickly. The day when anyone would be impressed by a rapid, or even instantaneous solution were at least a generation past. Aunt Coral had solved hers, she said, at the age of five, having been given the information from one of her future selves. When given the block on her tenth birthday, she unblocked a complete set of facet data records in the Guardian databases that she had already placed there in advance. No one was going to top that, so why bother? No one since had worried about trying to be fast. In fact the impression I had was that the tendency now was to do it on the sly and make it part of something significant beyond the birthday.

I called my facet Sandstone. I spent only a few minutes there the first time. Once my inaugural cataloging trip was complete, I never went back. It was a safe facet. Uninhabited and benign. I wasn't much interested in benign, and even less interested in uninhabited.

I had been in no rush, it's true, and I wasn't interested in earning any marks for subtlety either, so I solved the block a few nights later and made my trip with Grandpa Dave and Uncle Con the day after that. With my suit of protective junior Legionnaire armor and a few of the family tricks at the ready, I felt prepared to tackle anything.

What I wasn't prepared for was Soul Diver school.

Heavy sigh.

I guess that's the problem with those mind-to-mind family moments at its core. They work both ways. Grandpa Dave and Uncle Eru had looked into my thoughts and memories and decided that I would benefit from formal training in the arts of the mind, beyond the informal family practices involving the gifts. At least we were 'keeping it in the family' in a sense, as I was sent off to attend the school on Taluat founded by Uncle Eru but currently run by Felicia Poole. I spent a lot of time with Felicia, and it was probably a good thing. Her mind was vastly calm and unflappable. At ten, my mind was anything but calm. I was just too damned aware for my own good and saw too much to want to go slow. Felicia was able to bring me back to a calmer, more settled place, if only now and then. Riah Hulin and Zaia Alvarado spent a lot of time at the school while I was there. They were former students and part-time instructors. The Taluatan twins had deep reservoirs of mental strength, and I think that's why they were actually there, to add strength to the pool of calm that Felicia wrapped me in each day. Personally, I think they dreaded the onset of puberty when it hit, but I surprised them and everyone else by not going off the deep end or becoming a big bundle of emotion and urges.

I guess I'm making it sound like soul diver school was just an alternative to Ritalin for the gifted, but that's not true. During the three years that I was there we took apart the human mind and put it back together many times and in many ways. We studied compulsion and obsession and many of the other ways which a mind can derail itself, or have itself derailed. A big part of this was learning all the family tricks for fighting coercers. I learned about building walls of false thought and layers of constructed memories. I learned how to shield the core of my own mind and the minds of others. Riah and Zaia in particular spent quite a bit of time teaching me how to build triggers and traps that I could place in my own mind or the minds of others. Along with those were beacons and tracking bundles of thought that allowed me to keep track of another mind without having to seek it out.

It was very educational, but it was school, wasn't it supposed to be?

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