We were dressed and sat in the morning room, a deep silence between us. Marani came in and brought the breakfast tray and she too looked unhappy.
Lucian spoke to her.
“How did you sleep last night?”
She stopped and ducked under the sound of his voice as she always did, but answered right away, “Terrible nightmare, master, thought I was gonna die.”
Lucian dropped his lids and leaned back in the chair.
“Not about a grey wasteland,” he said languidly and Marani looked at him in alarm.
“Why yes, master,” she said, fearfully that he had been monitoring her very dreams, and then I had the awful realisation that we had all had the same dream, and as I linked with Lucian I heard it in him too, the terrifying thought that we had destroyed more than we had bargained for in our orgy of revenge on the Serein and their fabric.
Marani scuttled from the room as quickly as she could, which was a great deal quicker due to the miraculous absence of pain in her hips and back and as soon as she’d gone, Lucian said to me, “Do you think we actually destroyed the entire – everybody’s - dream world?”
I considered the possibility. Lucian had not ever been in Serein other than in the shadow/light scenario, but I had visited other places. Dareon’s green valley and the place where the Serein at Meyon Heights Monastery had been singing and dancing. Both of these visits had occurred whilst I was asleep and could have been dreams although I was pretty sure they were not.
Lucian linked deeper with me and we considered all that we knew between us. It wasn’t very much and we came to no conclusion. Experimentally, I reached for the blue healing dimension and it was there, clear and sharp as always, its patterns intact and ready to be twitched if I chose to do so. Lucian was with me and admired the ease at which I navigated there, as well as greedily soaking up the learnings and letting my mindsets come to him and become of him in turn. I called upon my stone, and it responded readily and brightly, a wonderful feeling. Lucian drew back from it, but eventually edged in closer and by linking with me and matching me more closely, he began to make a tiny contact with the stone himself and resonated green and blue with its power. Then Lucian shifted in his mind’s eye to a very distant place, a place of high grasses and rolling hills, a low flat set of little huts small in the vast landscape and made a connection like a long drawn out doorway through which one could easily step and travel, and I remembered that this was the place where he kept his own horses and how they came from nowhere when he opened up that door. I memorised the procedure as greedily as he had learned how to reach the healing dimension, and locked it into my own patterns of mind and understanding.
We re-surfaced and shook our heads simultaneously. All was in order with our patterns and our magic, no disruption, no disturbance, quite the opposite there seemed to be an even flow that appeared to make things easier than ever before.
So what was this about the wasteland?
“Perhaps it was just an accident,” he said out loud, “a side effect of what happened yesterday, and it will pass.” I very much wanted to believe that, and as the morning passed with nothing much, and I sat chatting in the kitchen with Marani, going over the events of the last days in minute detail, things seemed to be perfectly normal and the night drew further away.
We were all waiting for something to happen, someone or something to come, more soldiers perhaps or a fresh attack by the Serein, but nothing occurred that was the slightest bit out of the ordinary.
By the time darkness fell, we were all extremely tired and I retired to Lucian’s bed before him, as he said he wanted to check out something in the tower library by himself.
As soon as I closed my eyes and started to drift off, I was back in the wasteland and this time, panic set in right away. I tried to fight myself awake again but could not and died again, breathless and my heart beaten down to eventual stopping and I woke up screaming, and fell asleep again and it happened again and then I could not go to sleep anymore because it was too awful and I was too scared. In the grey hours of the pre-dawn, I heard and felt Lucian screaming in the tower room as he had nodded off over his books and gone straight to the grey as well.
We knew then that we were in serious trouble.
Bleary eyed and ashen, we faced each other in the morning room. Marani looked worse than we did and was shaking. “Its the revenge of the Serein,” she whispered to me and I had the awful feeling that she was probably right.
“Marani,” I said to her seriously. “I need you to go to your own house in the village and try to sleep there. Ask the villagers if they have the same problem there. I just hope to god this is confined to me and Lucian and that you’re getting the fallout from it because you’re so close to us both.”
“We will all go,” said Lucian and got up far more heavily than his usual elegant and powerful self. “I want to know now.”
He went and saddled up the horses and Marani harnessed the pony and the three of us made our way to the village. The morning was bright and beautiful, late summer gold with a hint of autumn in the air, not a cloud in the sky and it seemed to be mocking us.
We never talked nor exchanged any thoughts once all the way into the village, which took a good half hour’s ride because the pony could not go particularly fast. I felt Lucian’s anger and frustration at the slow pace but he contained himself deeply and when he felt me link-watching him, he cloaked himself more fully still.
The fear of the villagers was worse this time than it had been the last. This time, they didn’t throw themselves on the floor but they actually ran from us, as fast as they could and as far as they could go. The surviving soldiers must have come this way and had their tales to tell, or two, and such tales have a habit of growing out of all proportions, because no soldier will admit to having run from a single naked man.
We halted in the empty market place and Lucian looked around, steadily and easily, until he had found what he was looking for. A little while later, an older man appeared from a house on the far side of the well and with wooden, badly coordinated steps and abject terror on his face, was forcibly walked against his will towards us.
“You talk to him, “ Lucian commanded me and I turned my horse and intercepted the thin man before his mind imploded under the burden of sheer terror. I soothed him with some blue and green which as not quite steady because my concentration was none too good this morning and I found it hard to focus through a grey fog that was gathering on the outskirts of my mind.
“Answer my questions quickly and you can go,” I said to him and he nodded, wide eyed and still afraid to death.
“Did you sleep last night?”
He looked confused and nodded, mumbled “Yes my lady.”
“Did you sleep well?”
He nodded again. “Yes my lady, thank you.”
“Did any member of your household have nightmares last night?”
He still looked confused but shook his head. “No, my lady, not that I know of.”
I took a deep breath and signalled to Lucian so he might release the poor man.
“Thank you, you can go.” I said and he reeled backwards as Lucian’s control disappeared. He backed away, bowing and moving low, backwards all the way to his house.
I brought my horse close to Lucian’s and said, “Seems it’s just us, then.”
Lucian hissed out a vicious curse, then a whole stream of them. The war was not over then. We had just shifted battle grounds and there was a real and serious chance that we might lose this one.
Marani sat on the wagon, looking grey and exhausted. Lucian and I exchanged a glance and as one, said, “Go home,” to her. She nodded weakly and set the pony in motion. I sincerely hoped that with us gone, she would be alright with the villagers. I sincerely hoped and prayed that the Serein had not noticed her helping us and marked her out as our alley.
Lucian leaned forward across the saddle and rested on one arm.
“We need to do something, and we need to do it quickly. We cannot go without sleep for more than four days at the most.” he said grimly.
“We could try and sleep in the stone circle,” I suggested and he sighed and then grimaced. “Indeed, we could. But that would mean we’re right back where we started. Damn the Serein!” he exclaimed viciously, causing his horse to step nervously on the spot. He controlled it with a hard command which made the horse duck and flinch but then stand very still, just the ears twitching, eyes rimmed white and turned back on its rider and nostrils wide aflare.
Lucian sat up straight. “We can go back to the damned stone circle, or we can take the fight right to them and go to Meyon Heights right now, kick the doors down and beat them until they undo whatever they did.”
I nodded. I liked the thought of that. I also wanted to see if what we had done together had had any far ranging effects on the Serein as a whole – there had been a good lot of wailing and weeping during our festival of destruction.
“The monastery it is then,” said Lucian grimly. He took a deep breath and frightened me by shouting out at the top of his voice, making it ring with tremendous force through the abandoned village, “Bring me a sword this instant or by the fires of damnation I will burn this whole shit hole to the ground and with it everyone that ever lived here!”
A scuttling ensued, and a shaking man emerged from one of the larger stone houses, carrying in outstretched hands a large sword.
Lucian urged his horse towards him and rode by, sweeping the sword from the man’s hands, throwing it up in the air and catching it expertly by the grip. He swished it through the air and I could feel a renewed sense of vigour and a completeness that holding a sword in his hand imbued him with. Without a further word being spoken or thought, we urged on the horses and galloped down the road and towards Meyon monastery.
It had taken me and Dareon two full days to walk the distance, but the horses made short work of the road, eating it up in great easy strides. These horses were not like Lucian’s magical blacks, but they were stout and used to their work, their muscles hard as wood and their great legs strong and steady.
We crashed our way along and forced carts into the side ditches, trampled through an entire herd of wool beasts. Whoever and whatever lay in our way ran for its life or was simply run into the ground.
Lucian drove on unmercifully, never allowing the horses to slow their stride even for a moment and no matter how the ground was rising, and it was rising now, steeper and steeper still until the horses breath was so laboured and gasping that I thought they would die right between our legs.
I called him to order.
“Lucian what good is it going to be to anyone if we kill these beasts? I have no fancy for walking home again after!”
He snarled but allowed the horses to slow to a trot, and when the ground rose even more steeply still, to a walk.
In the end, he couldn’t contain himself any longer and jumped off the gasping, shaking horse, taking it roughly by the bridle and half dragging it physically up the steep and narrow path. I did not see the sense in that and instead, used a link with my horse and the stone to give it further energy. It was the wiser choice, for my brown began to breathe more easily and the knots in his muscles softened, his gait becoming easier and more purposeful once more and it would have been easy to overtake Lucian who was stomping and cursing under his breath.
The last sheerest incline caused Lucian to abandon his horse altogether, and I slid down off mine to join him. Lucian’s horse went shuddering onto its knees the instant he released the reins, but he didn’t give it a glance. His eyes were hard and entirely focussed on the elegant sweep of the greyish pink marble structure, sitting detached and lightly there on the plateau they had no doubt carved out for it, and in particular on the large black entrance door.
My legs hurt from the hard ride as did most other parts of my body; there was a dull ache in the back of my head but I remembered well the last time I had approached this building and a small smile came to me. I followed Lucian’s tight broad black back up onto the plateau and had to half run to keep up with his ranging strides. He was twirling the heavy sword in his left hand as though it was weightless, sprang up the wide shallow steps and kicked the door with a resounding thunder clap. It just sprang open and offered much less resistance than he had anticipated, causing him to lose balance for a moment and hesitate on the doorstep.
Then he stepped inside and I followed him.
The wide circular pale marble hallway and the wide spiral step less stairs seemed smaller than last I’d seen them, but the silence inside the building was far more oppressive than I remembered it to be. It had a weightiness to it that reminded me strongly of the grey landscape of my nightmares and the thought of this caused me to drift and fade momentarily, before I willed myself out of it and forced full attention on my immediate environment.
Lucian stood out clear and sharp in his black clothes against the whitish pink marble that concealed edges and structures in its sameness and his mind stood out clear and sharp here in this place, far clearer and sharper than I had experienced before.
All was absolutely silent apart from him and me, the sounds of our breathing, the sense of our thoughts as we scanned the entrance hall and the corridors as far as we could see, then I followed Lucian as he widened out his awareness through the white stillness, reaching and seeking but there was nothing.
Or was there? I had a feeling of a tiny flicker of something, far below us, and I indicated it to Lucian. His mind turned swiftly and fell like a hawk towards the flicker, scanning with an intensity and volition that was entirely unlike the ranging web I traversed when I was scouting the environment in that way. There was nothing there, and he was about to turn away when the flicker re-occurred, more strongly than before, yet still extremely weak and easily overlooked and never heard.
“Cha!” exclaimed Lucian, flicked his sword into an upright position and charged down the spiral ramp so quickly that I had to scamper after him with no chance of keeping up. At the first complete turn of the spiral, I saw two bodies lying in the hall just beyond, motionless and shrivelled, in the blue of Serein so intense in the sheer pink white all around them. There were bodies in the spiral itself then, first only one or two, then more and more until I had to step carefully to avoid treading on them – men, women, old and young, all dead, not moving and seemingly not decomposing either in the dry white cool of this place.
On the fourth turn of the spiral, the bodies thinned and there was only one or two more of them. I kept my mind as hard as I could and orientated myself to Lucian who was on the next level below me, making his way down the corridor, moving away to the left. I hurriedly completed the turn of the spiral and ran down the corridor – more bodies, and now, mostly very young people, Dareon’s age or thereabouts.
Lucian stood perfectly still and straight framed in the doorway towards a room. There were no windows on this level, just the glow orbs giving their strange unnatural light and not producing any visible shadows, giving the illusion that Lucian stood on water, or even floated in mid air.
I joined him, looked past his arms and saw –
A huddle of very small children in the far right corner of an otherwise entirely empty, windowless room, the oldest no more than about five or six years old, the youngest a baby wrapped in blue the same as their blue cloaks, with huge, huge eyes burning in their pale thin faces, and then intense fear and helplessness washed over us from them and one, a tiny girl with thin white blond hair that looked a lot like Dareon, started to cry, tiny high pitched sobs like a small bird would make if it could cry.
I could feel a shiver go through Lucian’s mind and body and he raised his sword fractionally, tightly held with both hands, and he took a languid step into the empty room. I moved around him and stood before him, arms slightly spread as though I was protecting the children at my back.
“You will not harm them,” I told him in a tone of voice and mind that boded no argument, and I held his eyes until his lids flickered, once, then rapidly again, and the part of him that loved – that lived to kill backed down and he was in control once more.
He lowered the sword’s tip to the ground and took a deep breath.
What will you have me do with them? he asked through the link, and the children whimpered in return for they could hear his thoughts as clearly and as loudly as I ever could.
He held them clearly, all, then slashed them with Silence! so hard that even made me jump.
The children froze in body and mind and there was, indeed, silence.
Out loud, I said, “Let’s go talk.”
He raised his head in momentary defiance, then shot a dark glance at the huddle of children, spun on his heels and stalked out into the corridor where he turned to face me.
I couldn’t think with all these bodies around me and walked on past him, opened a few doors at random and found another empty room which was, indeed, empty of everything, including the thin and frail and dried up corpses of the Serein we had killed.
I stepped into the room and Lucian followed me, but remained in the doorway, leaning against the white marble doorframe that blended entirely into the wall behind.
He looked at me half sarcastically, half expectantly and said out loud, his darkly resonant voice as alien as his entire presence in the otherworldly silence, “So what now?”
I sighed and sat down in the centre of the room cross-legged.
“Did we really do this?” I asked him, and there was a pleading note to my voice which did not escape him and caused a small unamused smile on his lips.
“It seems that way, doesn’t it,” he said dryly.
“Did we kill, all those people?” I shook my head and could feel a terrible horror moving towards me. “All those people?”
Lucian pushed himself off the doorframe, laid his sword at my feet and then sat down beside me.
“Not people, Isca. Serein,” he said quite gently.
I shook my head. “No, they’re people. They’re just people, like you and me, no different. They have children and babies for god’s sake, and Dareon was one of them …”
Lucian reached out and cupped my chin, forcibly raising my head so he could look into my eyes.
“Listen to me, and listen very carefully.”
I felt tears coming into my eyes and overlaid on his face and features there was the tangle of bodies over which I had stepped in the spiral.
He tightened his grip on my chin and gave me a slight shake.
“Listen to me, “ he said with power and force and the pictures disappeared and left just him and his pale grey eyes.
“What’s done, is done. There is no guilt here. That is the one luxury you cannot ever afford. Do you understand?”
The tears were coming harder now and I had no control over them.
“I can’t …” I began and couldn’t find the words so I sent him what I felt about having danced in delight whilst killing all these people. He received what I sent to him steadily, then exploded the entire emotion with a single well aimed pulse of blue and white.
“You can, and you will,” he said into the silence that was now in my mind. “You are strong enough, easily so. What’s done, is done.”
“What’s done, is done,” I repeated with a sigh and he smiled and released my chin and sat back on his heels.
“The questions we have are no concern of the past. It is about the future,” he said calmly and I allowed him to take charge of my thoughts and my direction. It was simply easier that way.
“It doesn’t look to me as though our sleep problems were caused by the Serein, after all,” he went on. “I’ll give you a good wager that every monastery in the land looks just exactly like this one does. They’re all interlinked, you know. Well, at least they were.” He thought that was amusing and smiled again.
But all I could think of was the monasteries, however many there were of them, and in each one a huddle of small frightened starving children, waiting for someone to come and feed them, for their parents to return.
I had had no idea of the repercussions of our counterattack on the Serein light when I was fighting for my own life. I had had no choice, or none that I knew about – Lucian was right, it was done and must remain done and though it was a terrible thing, it was not my sin or my guilt. But here now, there were the children. I now knew of them, and here was a direct choice to be made, a choice with volition and intent, and it is in such choices that your path divides for you know what’s right and what’s wrong and there was no way I could choose the wrong and knowingly be doing so.
I wiped the remnants of tears from my eyes and face with my hands.
“We will collect all the Serein children and see to it that they are cared for in a fashion,” I told him.
He snorted in disbelief and then his expression changed to one of true astonishment when he realised that entirely meant what I had said and that I would see to it that it was done, and that there was nothing at all that could change my mind on the subject.
He accepted it and ran his hand through his hair repeatedly.
“Well,” he said sarcastically, “you better get going, in that case. You have about two days left, perhaps four with that stone of yours, until you – until we both go insane. Ah,” he chuckled at the thought, “so much to do, and so little time …”
I didn’t appreciate his gallows humour.
“Well then, “ I said and stood up gingerly, the cold marble floor having done nothing beneficial to my aching muscles, “in that case we’d better get on with it.” He stood up too and picked up his sword, looking at it lovingly.
“You go look around, see if you can find out anything, find anything helpful, especially like the stone, and I’m going to go and talk to the children. Perhaps they know something.”
He snorted and shook his head. I had a flash of unfortunate memories of trying to interrogate such children, and how it was entirely a waste of time because they always ended up saying exactly what they thought you wanted to hear. He thought of them as despicable, the weakest of the weak, lower than the lowest slaughter beast and they made him furiously angry. I was astonished but there was no time to get into that right now. I pushed the thoughts away and went back into the room where the children where still huddling, clinging to each other for an illusion of security, afraid beyond the bounds of fear. From deep inside me, a desire rose to crush them, to kill them and just end their fragile misery but I knew that wasn’t mine and I sent it away, spiralling way out fast and with a warning never to dare to return to me.
I sat down once again, gingerly lowering myself onto the cold floor, crossed my legs and took the purse that contained my stone from around my neck. The children’s eyes went to the flashing golden glass pieces as one and then a communal shudder went through them as Lucian passed by outside the open door, and I saw him through their eyes just as a demon shadow with whirling red eyes of doom and a giant slicing sword, twice as big as the demon itself.
I had to laugh at that and it broke the children’s group hallucination. I sent them pictures instead from my memory – Lucian at the stone circle, naked and curled up, asleep – Lucian drinking wine, thirstily – Lucian kneeling before me, us kissing lightly on the lips – Lucian’s strong neck and muscular shoulders, hot and alive beneath my touch – I stopped myself there because the representations were taking a turn not really suitable for the children. Still, they had received the message and the demon took a slightly more human shape.
That would do for now on that subject.
I lovingly shook the stone from the pouch into my lap, lifted it reverently as it shot its living welcome through my fingertips and placed it halfway between them and me on the floor, where it sat, beautiful and opalescent, tiny stars of many colours rapidly moving underneath its surface which seemed to shift like translucent skin.
A collective sigh of comfort and home-remembered came from the group, and with it a thawing and an individualisation – fear, confusion, loneliness, homesickness, non-understanding, hunger, thirst, emotions never experienced, confusion ….
I send them soothing waves, gently and rapidly, and they calmed and relaxed in body and mind so I could begin. I created a mental meeting platform in the space between us, stepped up onto it and told them:
I am Isca (short flashes of me running and playing with my baby brother, in the Serein monastery, walking with Dareon, meeting Lucian and loving him).
Is there one amongst you who can speak for you all?
A girl hesitantly stepped up to the platform. She was perhaps 6 or 7 years old, very thin, huge brown eyes and thin brown hair but she held herself upright and said very clearly and precisely, I am Reyna a Hajo de Hossesos. I will speak for all of us. I am the oldest and hold the highest grade amongst us.
I felt she expected me to ask about her grade but I had no idea what that was all about and now, most likely it would be irrelevant forever. I was casting around as how to proceed from there, when the girl asked me in her clear and precise children’s voice, Are you the ones who ended the elders?
I cloaked myself momentarily as the directness of the question threw me off balance. I considered for a moment or two, then dropped the cloak and answered her clearly and steadily.
Yes, we are.
The children in general and the girl in front of me were not surprised. Interestingly, they were also not angry and just marginally fearful now.
Will you end us too?
Why not? enquired the girl curiously and unbalanced me again with her children’s question.
I considered before replying slowly, You were – are - not a part of the battle.
The girl nodded very seriously and then asked, What is to become of us?
I will find shelter and care taking for you until you are old enough to take care of yourselves.
Thank you, Reyna replied formally and stiffly, but behind it I could feel her fear returning. The thought of leaving the monastery behind and entering into the world they had been told was hard and nothing but destruction was terrifying to her but she did her best to keep her calm and detach from her emotions.
Watching her struggle I was both impressed by her as well as sad for her. One so young should not have to bear such burdens, I thought and sighed, then turned my attention to the purpose of my visit.
Have you slept recently? I asked of the girl.
She shook her head. We cannot sleep because there is a bad place which kills you in your sleep waiting for us when we do. She was about to add something but did not, yet I had a good impression of how these children were suffering and how they were trying to support each other.
It is all grey and each one is there alone? I asked and she nodded again, put her head to one side and looked at me curiously. You have been there too? And the demon?”
Yes. That is why we came here. To find out how to stop it so we can sleep again.
The girl looked very sad.
I cannot tell you that. My grade isn’t height enough.
I nodded and thanked her seriously, from one individual to another and without condescension. She quickly said, knowing that I was about to take my leave,
Please – Lady Isca?
I turned back towards her and questioned.
Hesitantly, the girl said, If you and the demon find out how – how to sleep, will you tell me/us?
I smiled at her. I will if you promise something in return.
Very seriously she said, I will do what is in my power.
Start calling Lord Lucian Lord Lucian from now on.
She bend her head in acquiescence.
I give you my word that it shall be so.
I held out my hand to her and curiously, she took it and responded in kind when I gave her slim, thin white hand a careful little squeeze as not to break the tiny bones within.
I let the platform collapse and across the stone from me, saw the real girl, with a smaller child pressed close to her on either side and a baby on her lap, regard me steadily from huge brown black eyes.
We had said everything that needed to be said. I swiftly got up, and was about to bend down to collect my stone when I reconsidered. I tasked it instead to take care of the children in my absence and to keep them balanced and calm. Then I left the room in search of Lucian.
The bodies in the corridors and the spiral well no longer troubled me to the same extend as they had before. I stepped on what had been someone’s hair once, and What is done is done came over me soothingly and it didn’t bother me anymore.
I reached out to Lucian and the link sprang into being, sharply, precisely and so close as though he was right next to me and touching me.
The children have the nightmares too. They don’t know what to do about them, I told him.
I have found some very interesting things I would have loved to taken the time to explore under different circumstances, he replied with his dry humour, perhaps you should come up here and see if you can make sense of some of this.
I joined him in a large circular room right at the very top level of the monastery. It was absolutely breath taking. The design immediately reminded me of Lucian’s little tower room but the scale and everything here was so much larger, vaster, impressive beyond impressive.
The symbolic circle, painted on the old wood in Lucian’s tower had become fantastic shimmering mosaics of the deepest richest colours interlaced with gold, silver and precious stones which fairly throbbed against the white marble that surrounded them and set them off even more strongly still. All around the tower were huge, huge windows, twice Lucian’s height and as wide again, looking out into the mountains and the valley below, breathtakingly beautiful and blindingly bright. There was the round gallery by the windows as well, and the steps down from the gallery into the central area were elegant half sweeping arcing ramps instead.
The most notable difference beyond the sheer scale and immense richness of this tower room was the presence of a number of white stone reclining chairs, all around the circle and its symbols in the centre, with wide arms set with stones and mosaic constructs, and in each chair was the charred and exploded body of a single Serein.
“Dear creator,” I whispered and couldn’t help but descend through the spiral ramp, walk across the throbbing mosaic symbols and close up to the first one. The body was held together only by its robe, the face had exploded outwards, scattering black crunchy coal like remnants around in a wide circle, leaving a deep hole filled with ashes where the front of the scull had once been.
Lucian strode towards me, his boots crunching on the burned Serein parts, and gave the charred corpse a kick with his foot that sent it cracking dryly to the ground where it disintegrated altogether.
I shook my head and really disapproved of him.
“Don’t be so disrespectful,” I whispered and put my arms around my own shoulders because I suddenly felt cold.
Lucian laughed, the sound reverberating overly loud and amplified by the tower room.
He slapped me on the back in a very friendly gesture of comradeship and said merrily, “Come on, these cannot bite you anymore. Further, did I not hear someone tell me not so long ago that they only respect that which is worthy of respect? And that – “ he nudged at the deflated Serein cloak at my feet with the tip of his boot, “is not, if it ever was, even when it was alive.”
I caught a deep strand of his delight at being able to witness the absolute devastation of the Serein. They had controlled him his entire life, they had lorded it over him, they had told him what to do and even when to die and he had thought there was no other choice but to obey them. Little wonder really that he would behave like this, I thought, and then he said to me,
“I don’t need your justifications or your excuses. One corpse is much the same as another, and not one amongst their countless numbers have ever hurt another living soul. It’s either them lying there, or it’s you and me, and I’m sure the creator doesn’t give a damn which one. You should look upon them and be happy. Be happy they’re all dead and the nightmares aren’t a conspiracy against us.”
I found it difficult and did not like to get involved in this reasoning. I was still cold through and through and his mention of the nightmares reminded me again of how tired I was. As soon as I thought it, a deep yawn started in my throat.
“Concentrate,” said Lucian resolutely. “Come over here and tell me you don’t like it.”
I was most grateful for his intervention and although I yawned again, I picked myself up and followed to where he led me.
Straight across from the main front door, at the back wall below the gallery, on a plinth that tapered and then swept into the marble as though it grew straight out of it, sat a huge version of my own singing stone. It was dead and dull but there was no doubt about what it had been. I was fascinated and reached carefully towards it, but it didn’t do anything and I could touch its dull surface and it felt hardly any different than the marble plinth beneath it, perhaps slightly colder still and a little more rough and pitted.
It was dead.
I sighed deeply and gave whatever I had in the way of a prayer by the way of fervent hope that this at least was not my doing, because, guilt or not, I could never, never forgive myself for hurting such a stone.
Behind me, Lucian laughed again.
“You are quite extraordinary,” he informed me. “You can let go of troubling yourself with having wiped out an entire people, but whoa! We mustn’t hurt the stone!” and he thought that was so funny that he doubled over and laughed and laughed until his eyes started to tear.
I shoved him mentally as hard as I could, and he wasn’t prepared for it and stumbled, fell backwards, slipped and fell right down, cracking his head hard on the marble floor.
He sat up, legs wide spread out before him, touching the back of his head with his hand but he was still laughing at me.
“Temper, temper,” he said and rose to his feet fluently and easily.
I felt guilty again for having hurt him and wanted to check him for damage and yet at the same time, I was extremely angry with him and wanted to hurt him some more.
He walked right up into my personal space and took me gently by the shoulders. Then he kissed me on the lips, lightly as a brother would and held me out at arm’s length, still smiling.
“It is of no concern,” he said. “There’s much for you to learn.”
I felt the emotions drain from me as though he was pulling them out of me and into himself.
“Unfortunately,” he went on and let go of me, but putting one hand on the side of my neck and rubbing it lightly with his thumb, “we haven’t got much time for this. Night is coming soon and things will become difficult indeed if we cannot arrive at a way to deal with the dream. The more tired we become, the harder it will be to think straight at all. Trust me, I know.”
I leaned into his touch and sighed deeply.
“Ok, lets go sit down somewhere and see what we know and if we can come up with something.”
We climbed up one of the snail ramps and sat down on the windowsill, big and wide, which ran all the way around the circular tower.
Automatically and on my part, with a sense of relief, we dropped into a link and began flicking options and possibilities back and forth.
The one thing that struck me extremely strongly was how I and the Serein children had unusually been all alone in the dream. I was sure that if Lucian had been there with me, we could have done something to fight off the pressure or affect a change. He resonated and said that he felt the same – if only I had been there, everything would have been alright.
Does it always come down to us merging to get us out of trouble, he asked me dryly and with some hint of exasperation, and I send agreement in return. This time though, we would have to merge completely and stay that way until the new us would fall asleep and enter the grey dimension. We both grew uncomfortable at the possibility of a great deal of time being spent in a full merging, and I was uncomfortable at the thought that the destruction desire might run out of control again and we would do further damage to the very fabric of reality.
We considered it from all angles for a time, and in truth, we were just playing around because both of us wanted to merge again. Both of us had an experience of unknowable power and strength, of being so much more than we ever thought we could be whilst trapped in our respective bodies and minds, that we wanted to experience it again. Lucian picked up my thought and although he agreed that it was a truth, he didn’t like it, no more than I liked the possibility of further destruction.
We need not have come here, he sent with amusement. We could have stayed right where we were and done the same thing from there.
Perhaps I had to see the bodies first, I suggested, had to meet the children, first.
I hope it won’t make you hold us back when the time comes.
And I hope to the creator that it will.
We broke the link and stared at each other like combatants for a time, neither of us giving way, neither of us being able to back down, until a small voice came between us.
We would be grateful if you could begin. Any assistance we may be able to offer is at your disposal.
Lucian shot up in shock but I shook my head quickly and placed a finger on my lips.
Thank you, Reyna, I responded. We will find a placement for our bodies and begin at once.”
A note of acknowledgement hung briefly in the air, and her presence was gone.
Lucian gave one of his growls. “I should have …”
“Oh do be quiet,” I said to him. “She’s right and you damn well know it. Let’s stop fighting and get to it. It’s getting late in the day.”
He bit his tongue as well as his mind and got up, and I led the way from the tower room to the second level where my bedroom had been, and where more bedrooms lay white and empty.
I found the room I had occupied easily enough. The huge bed had been stripped of bedclothes but that was immaterial.
I went straight to it and lay down on it, and Lucian came around the other side, placed his sword alongside the bed on the floor and took up his place next to me.
There was still resistance and residue between us, tainting the link and we both struggled to get rid of it but it wouldn’t go.
Exasperated and as one, we turned to each other and our eyes locked again. The link between us hummed strongly with our dissonance.
I don’t want to become like you, was the clear message from me, and I received anger in return (you’re no better than all the others – what did I ever see in you? Weak, stupid - I hate you!)
My anger flared back at him. You kill for the sake of killing and your best pleasure is in destruction! I won’t live like that! I won’t – I can’t, - become that.
He was vibrating with a mixture of emotions, the dominant one being anger which was pushing towards rage and he tried to battle it back and remain in logical control.
We have done it before and yet here you are, whining, he threw at me. So what’s your point? You have become less than me than you ever were before.
I sent a strong negation. Every time it gets harder for me to know what of me is me, and what is yours. I am beginning to see the world through your eyes and your eyes don’t see the world the way it is. Not how it truly is. All you see is destruction.
That is who I am! he shouted through my mind. That is who I have always been! That is what you wanted from me in the first place, just as the Serein did, use me for their dirty work because just like you they can’t stand the thought of not being on the side of righteousness!
I flagged and had no answer for him, nothing that made sense, and there was no way for him to know what I knew, or what I thought I knew, who knows, I might be wrong and he might be right, and what difference did it make in the end?
I was tired. My head hurt and my heart hurt too. A part of me wished that I could share his sense of equilibrium about what had happened to the Serein – no, I corrected myself, what I had done to the Serein with his help, and had enjoyed doing, which was far worse. What a trade. Hundreds, probably thousands of lives most likely far more worthy than mine and his, in return for our freedom. Would I had made the trade if I had known the outcome? And the truth was that I knew that I would have done no differently. Deep down, I was just as bad as he was. I was just trying to pretend to be on the side of righteousness. The thought made me sick to my stomach and sick into the very marrow of my bones.
Lucian had tracked me silently throughout, and now he spoke calmly into my mind.
So now, you’ve done your own judging. Very good. All done. So, what’s next? What’s it going to be? Are you going to lie there and whimper some more or are you going to take control and do what needs to be done?
I went outside and looked into his real eyes to steady myself. From the first moment, he had been like a homecoming to me. An island in a stormy sea. The only person I had ever felt such a true connection to and for whom I had ever felt such intensity of connection – yes, of love. What did that say about me?
I leaned my head forward, against his lips, and whispered, “Lucian please help me.”
He sighed deeply and kissed my forehead, then drew me into his arms and held me close. Next to my ear, I heard his voice, low and dark, “This is the one thing no man can help another with. It is your own true test of courage.”
“You are my courage,” I said, muffled into his chest.
He shook his head.
“I can be no more your courage than I can carry your own evil for you. It must always be yours, and yours alone, no matter how many times we link or merge, or how deeply.”
I knew he was right but felt too weak, too small and too helpless for the task.
I could feel him smiling and he tightened his embrace.
“The only thing you are is too sorry for yourself,” he said in a gentle tone of voice, and it made me smile too. I snuggled up closer to him and he held me firmly for a while, then he asked, “Are you ready now?”
To do what must be done. “If you keep holding me.” I said and he laid me down, drew me close to him and I relaxed into his body and into his mind.
With every breath we took, the link deepened and widened out and broadened and with every breath we took, we drew in closer and closer together until I began to drift away from who was me and a fear pierced me, then it was soothed and we continued deeper and deeper into each other. I began to change, to grow and rise with an alien power and strength that became more subtle and integrated and then I was newly born into the us and let myself drift off to sleep.
I awoke as before, on the hard, cracked grey ground under the grey unchanging sky, but this time it was different right from the start. I was different, taller, stronger, older, deep knowledge of the limits of my strength and power and how much further those could reach than I had previously imagined.
I felt the weight from the sky and land all around me as before, intensifying the longer I remained in this place. I stood up straight and reached up and into the grey, and all of a sudden, there was a flashing sword of blue black steel in my hand. I swished it through the air expertly, and the pressure receded noticeably. I swung it lightly in circles around my head, and the pressure backed off and away, leaving me in a free space of my own creation.
Experimentally, I touched the tip of the sword to the dry cracked dusty ground, and it shuddered beneath the touch of the blue steel like it was the skin of a giant living animal upon which I stood. I pushed the tip down into a crack and the shuddering increased, and increased still more as I levered the crack and broke off a large chunk of the grey matter. I knelt down and looked at a pulsing greenish existence, thus revealed.
I laid the sword down by my side, reached into the opened hole and touched the greenish thing inside. It was soft and obviously very vulnerable indeed without the grey shell to protect it. I could easily kill it with a simple thrust of the sword into the deep but what would that accomplish?
I reached out into the deep with my mind instead and found a quivering confusion, a pre-existence that had no knowing of what it was or could become yet there it was and it was afraid.
Above me, a swirling began in the grey sky, and directly above the breach in the crust I had created, the centre of a swirling vortex began to develop. I stood back, picked up my sword and watched the vortex grow, then stretch into a funnel shape that was swinging this way and that, getting lower and closer to the ground, powerful energies like wind racing and sending stretched out puffs of grey this way and that.
I backed away further still as the bottom of the funnel made contact with the ground, like the trunk of an animal searching, searching, and finally it found the breach in the crust and latched onto it, sucking up the strange pre-existence, draining it from beneath the shell whilst up above and in the sky, the grey was sucked faster and faster still, from further and further away to become a part of the giant vortex itself. The sky and land were eating itself up at an ever more rapid rate, and then the crust itself collapsed and I was floating easily amidst a velvet black, and the funnel, with no more grey to eat at the top and no more ground to eat at the bottom, collapsed in on itself and was gone.
I floated gently in the black void for what seemed to be a very, very long time, and eventually I became aware of some tiny twinkling lights far, far away in the distance. They became more manifold, and as time moved on, they grew in numbers all around me until it was like I was swimming in a starry summer sky, in peace and in deepest beauty. I watched the twinkling stars and finally, drifted off into unconsciousness.