In Serein

1-7-7 Of Shadows

I remember the first time he woke up, it must have been about a threeday later.

I had amused myself with all manner of things, the tower and its base structures being a playground for one such as me.

You could shift and shape it and make it into everything you want it to be; I had merged half a dozen rooms into a wide ranging apartment, put in windows, shelves. I had spoken to the horse guarding people and had them prepare a regular supply of food; the water supplies of the ancient tower still working just as they had done when it was constructed, the creator alone would know how many thousands of years ago.

I was playing house in a happy delusion of togetherness and healing that shattered like the most fragile of ice coverings on a deep pool when you throw a little stone right into the middle.

When Lucian awoke, he was cloaked in the deep blue white ice state and he attacked me from there the instant he opened his eyes. He slid from the bed and grabbed me and threw me so hard against the wall that the shelves cracked like my skull and I had to put myself back together again in a hurry.

He threw what he could throw, and tore apart what he could tear apart.

He screamed at me, such things as I could not hear and they were all things.

He accused me of all things and battered me with wave upon wave of pure hatred from his mind.

He attacked me and he hit me, hurt me, broke my arms, bloodied my face and my eyes and I was too busy to keep repairing the damage to do anything else but to let him do it.

There were moments when I thought that he was right to do these things and that I deserved this, and there were other moments when I thought that I did not.

Eventually, he turned on himself instead. He cut his face and eyes with shards of broken stone and glass, and his screaming had turned to a half sobbing by then; when his face, hands, arms, shoulders, chest, stomach, lower organs and his thighs were a vermilion mess and blood lay spread out around him like a royal cloak, he fell to his knees and tried to break his skull against the floor, until he subsided to retching, crying, clawing.

I watched him and did not intercede, did nothing until he had fainted and lay still.

Then I restored him gently and put him back to bed, cleared the room and returned it to its prior state.

I do believe that day was the first time I ever prayed to the creator for strength.

I took up position on the second bed and waited for him to awake again, and he did, and sometimes he did not attack me but ran from the room, down towards the central shaft and dived like a swimmer head first into the darkness, I followed him at a distance and already knew that he was heading for the dungeon levels once more.

What was worst in that time, and worse than his insanities of hurting me or him, were the moments when he appeared so clear and lucid, so fully himself again that I would momentarily forget and fall back into the delusion that he and I were alright again, like we used to be. These moments frightened me more than any of his ravings for they gave me a false hope which hurt me through the centre of my being when they were crushed once more. And yet, in all that time, I never stopped falling into the hope, the illusion, whenever he gave me the slightest chance.

One morning I found him lying in one of the dungeon cells, stretched out long on the black and silver torture table, his hands holding on to the metal cuffs that would have been placed around his wrists by another, and he called me Sephael and asked me what we would be learning today. When I would not answer, he got up and took some of the dull silver blades that were beautifully arranged according to size and shape and began with slow deliberation, to push them into himself, screaming, roaring as he did so yet with steady hands and unwavering pressure, having become the torturer and the tortured one and the same combined in one body that could not hope to hold them both.

I called to him but he never heard me, and when I tried to reach his mind, there was nothing there but a pure black wall that let not a single ray of light escape from within and let not a single ray of light enter from the outside in return.

I sent him love and healing and it bounced flatly off the black wall, dripped down in broken rainbow waves and ineffectually slid to the floor where it lay twitching.

I tried to intervene physically, both of my hands and all my weight on the wrist slippery with blood that held the long tapered blade and it was as though I was just a ghost and I could not get between him and himself to protect either from what they were doing with and to each other.

I tried to intervene with my mind and drew on the tower’s patterns to fuel my locking him into position but as soon as I relaxed the hold even slightly, he would resume the same movement as though he had just been frozen temporarily in time and with never a heed or thought of me at all.

In the end, I gave up with a sickness in my stomach and a sickness in my heart, and watched him unweepingly with eyes that hurt and stung as though they were full of burning sand. I watched him destroy himself slowly and deliberately, and at the last moment and before the last drops of his life had ebbed away, I would restore him and return him to his bed.

I watched him a dozen times or more until finally something inside me broke wide open and I could no longer do to him what Sephael had done – how was I any better? – and put him into a deep, deep coma, a sleep so deep that he could lie for a hundred years and never starve nor need to breathe at all.

Over and over, I cried until I was so exhausted that I fell into a senseless sleep and when I awoke, it was as though I wasn’t here at all and that the distance between us was further than a hundred thousand times the ride from Merina to this forsaken place.

Outside, spring was advancing. So I guessed because the windows in the tower brought in sunlight which seemed to last a little longer as the days crept by, one by one.

To me, and it was me at that time, just me, a little extra knowing perhaps, perhaps a little extra strength, but just me with no memories of this place save the ones that I had created here all by myself, to me the tower was like a grave.

It was Lucian’s grave who lay white and absolutely motionless amongst the darkness of the room I entered once or twice a day because I could not stay away, try as I might. I could not stay there long either for I had so terribly failed to help him that I couldn’t even think of it without setting off a violent reaction in my mind or my body.

Eventually I forced myself to awaken the huge stone in Sephael’s bed chamber. That was a fine thing, a beautiful thing, a thing of such amazing power and intensity, a pure thing regardless of the fact that Sephael had been its last partner in consciousness, for the stone itself was pure and incorruptible, no matter what uses it was put to by the twisted minds of men, magicians or stupid little girls who thought their anger would be enough to conquer all the known worlds and universes.

Working with the stone which was a portal to everyone and everywhere and even everywhen you might ever want to be should have been the most wonderful moments of my existence, and yet I could not feel the same unity and even when the patterns we traversed together were so colour blessed and radiant as to blow your self from your self, there was always the sadness there, always the terrible sadness and sense of loss and longing, and none of this was worth anything without him, linked into the me/you that became one and where I was who I was always supposed to be, not a broken half that mindlessly strove to stumble and lurch on its own.

I left the stone and tasked it with sleep. I was neither worthy of it nor interested in the wonders it had to offer. It obeyed me unquestioningly and without reservation and returned to its previous state.

I took to sleeping in Sephael’s chambers then, and kept myself occupied with the puzzle of the shaped crystal/glass things behind the complex barrier.

It was indeed the most complicated thing I had ever known.

The Serein pattern world was very fragile and incredibly interwoven, but this barrier was made of something more, an interlacement of base patterns, Serein patterns, and something else I had no experience of and which I simply didn’t understand. The cause and effect relationships between the Serein strands and their meanings was very tenuous and often unpredictable, but these new  patterns, strong and clear though they were, didn’t make any sense at all.

It truly hurt my head to try and track them, try and understand them, unravel them.

Yet the pattern barrier was also a wonderful diversion. Unlike the beauty and power of the stone which sat uneasily with me and always left me feeling depleted, undeserving, bitterly lonely and crushed, working with the pattern barrier was a tight, sharp challenge and I could reduce the entirely of my existence to traversing the pattern and trying to make sense of it. Whilst I was engaged in that task, nothing else mattered, and nothing came to mind. In the patterns, there was no room for my misery. No room for pain.

Sometimes there was a faraway flash of a beginning of an understanding, but just as soon as it occurred and I would try to take notice and remember what this understanding was, it would just dissipate right before my eyes.

Sometimes I snapped out of the contact with the barrier and would scream out loud in frustration.

I had created a pool room for myself in blue and green from one of Sephael’s study chambers which helped me to centre.

I would eat the provisions the horse people send – strange fruit and strange bread, very strange meat but it was all good and nourishing to me, and more so than just the mere eating of it. Interwoven in the food itself and its tastes was the place where it had come from, such alien stars up above the wide grass land.

I often lay in the pool as the sun was setting behind the incredible mountains, letting the orange, pink, blood red rays stroke me through the windows and colour the water in which I floated.

I often thought of just opening the door and stepping through and visiting the land of the horses myself, saying hello to the blacks and the little pretty light footed golden mare and her relations that had danced me through the desert.

I often wondered why I did not, but only lazily so, and the thought just drifted away from me.

Time passed and my routine was comforting. I did not go to see Lucian’s body anymore and that was relief for which I felt half ashamed, and half grateful.

I rose when I rose, swam in the pool which I had widened and widened again and again so that it was now a very large construction that took up three whole rooms and with enormous windows that clearly followed the circular curving of the huge tower.

I would call my fresh morning meal provisions, eat and drink in wonder beneath the windows to the mountains in the absolute silence that surrounded me, then I would take up station on Sephael’s bed and begin the delicate process of aligning myself with the pattern barrier.

Slowly, there was some progress, and the progress and right way to resolve this task was to be able to hold the totality of the three separated yet interwoven patterns in my mind at the same time. As soon as you could do that, interconnections became apparent and the pattern started to make sense, not in a way that you could talk about or describe or even paint in a picture, but on some very strange and abstract level.

My problem lay in holding all the patterns in consciousness. I could make it happen in brief flashes but it was a terrible effort that left me gasping and trembling, thrown back into my body and covered in sweat on the bed, with my head beating red and fire blind in time with my racing heart.

Still, I was determined and there was nothing else to do. Time and time again I would fail, and eventually, either I built a resistance or simply got better at it with practise, I could hold the patterns without falling back and burning myself on their intensity, at least for a time, and when I did, I began to know that the next step would be to manipulate them.

I can’t remember counting the days, but the provisions I brought to me in the morning when I sent back the last day’s remnants, always contained some strange nut shaped things, small, light brown, round vegetable-like affairs that tasted vaguely like smoky mushrooms. Each day when they arrived, I would take one of them and throw it into the corner of the room I had chosen for a dining room and dressed in white and gold, and it didn’t occur to me for a long time that I was doing this to have an indication of the time spent in the tower.

It didn’t often occur to me to even look at them. I remember one time earlier on when there were a few, spread out like scurrying mice, and then the next time I remember looking there was a pile of them, a hundred or more. It frightened me.  There was a difference to reality; I stopped throwing the mushroom things into the corner, and cleared them all away into a helpful vortex not long after that.

I could hold the patterns easily now and had found numerous ways to manipulate them without getting a nasty flashback that tingled right through my body and hurt like hell at the time – it made you real careful, just for the fear of it happening again, even though it wasn’t that bad, really, and didn’t seem to leave any permanent damage.

And finally, the day came when I carefully twitched a small combination in the pattern and the pattern simply folded into itself and disappeared – just like that.

I shot up rigid from the bed and gasped with shock and a dawning sense of bereavement and loss yet also an excitement for now I could clearly feel the intense pressure of the glass things pulsing all across the room and into the very walls of the tower itself.

The realisation was there.

I had unlocked Lord Sephael’s Book Of Shadows.