Ah, that you had to be born in New Albain, comes Lu's thought, as her strong hands work the muscles of your calf. Those people are afraid of everything—come meet my kin with me in Pandosia some time, though, and the invitation is unmistakably a true one, and let my cousins treasure you...

It's an enticing thought, one that sends a hot flush up into your ears and down your chest—there's a sense in Lu's mind, hard to make out but as if—something like a village church? And a little like the brothels you've seen in so many ports of call—and how could those be so much the same?—so many questions, but in the wake of that last so powerful paroxysm you feel a sudden wave of lassitude that makes even thought seem too much effort, and all you can do is simply lie back against the strong iron of the bath and let Lu soothe your incipent aches away as the warm water draws the strains from you.

Too much, suddenly, even to keep your eyes open, but you need not, you know; everything feels so lovely just now, the warmth of the water and the strength of Lu's gentle touch and the raging crackling fire of shared lust and love and desire still coming strong from the cabin outside, and above and through and around and beneath it all and you, the sense still of being wonderfully full, the communion among the deep thing's mind and your own a comfort beyond compare as it extends its own vast consciousness down into your body and fills you with a softly pulsing warmth and ease—sensing the relaxation of your muscles in the wake of Lu's touch, and shaping its thoughts to match, and sharing them with your mind and your body to ease you beyond anything you've never known before.

Rest, dear Emeline—Lu's thought, quiet and gentle and unutterably kind. Sleep, and let us look after you a while. You've done enough tonight—the deep thing too sensing the thought in her mind no longer wholly quiet now and echoing it through your communion as you let go your grasp of yourself and let deep dreamless sleep overtake you—

—deep and dreamless, but not alone: even there it is with you, the communion undiminished though that part of it that is you be not now consciously aware, and even there you know at last a new and simple comfort.

Ever before, your whole life long, you've always slept alone. And so, though you never knew it, you've never slept at all—not quite; there is always that tiny part of oneself which remains awake, aware, unrestful—on guard for whatever threats may loom in the darkling depth of night.

Ever thus it's been, when you have slept alone. But you do not sleep alone now.

And in the very depth of it, you know—your communion undiminished with the part of it that's you no longer consciously aware—you know you're not alone. Nor need you fear the night—for the deep thing cherishes you, and wonders at you, and whatever threats may loom, it will reckon with them so finally and completely that you need never even know.

And long though it be before you wake—you have never slept so well.