In Serein

1-8-4 Catch The Sun, The Moon …

So, a very strange and languid time began that was quite satisfying in its own right.

Lucian kept hold of himself and both of us worked in different ways all through the days and most of the nights that followed. I taught him the use of the small singing stones and like the children, he amused himself endlessly with all manner of things, only he tended to be somewhat more dramatic.

Once I had to restore the physical west side of the tower because he had collapsed the structure entirely; luckily for us both, he had been playing with the verticals rather than the horizontals at the time. After that, he took to leaving the tower and playing with the ice and the rock of the surrounding landscape instead. I found that worrisome because I couldn’t track him through the shieldings, but perhaps he needed that space as well to be able to know I wasn’t constantly watching him.

He did things on a scale that were quite incomprehensible to me, yet it showed me how I had always limited myself to little things. The day he erased an entire mountainside and left a circular indentation of molten, black glass-like substance in its wake, I began to really wake up to what you can do when you start to move the patterns with volition and let the cascading effects just loose, to ripple where they may.

He also experimented with a heedlessness that I found scary and I wished he would be just a little more careful, but he was too happy, no, joyful in these doings and I didn’t have the heart to even try and stop him, although it was questionable if I could have stopped him, even if I had wanted to.

Eventually, and before he turned the entire North Mountain range into a churning sea of boiling rocks, I gently put it to him that it was necessarily to move towards the finer distinctions in the patterns so he would be able to move into the Serein levels from there, where a tremendous sensitivity and a most gentle approach was required. Reluctantly yet willing enough, he began to work on tasks I designed for the purposes of having him learn restraint and to work with minutiae, such as changing very small areas and just a single layer deep in a piece of mountain rock which was not as cohesive to work with as the tower material, being in fact composed of many different substances that had become fused over a long period of time.

He worked at these tasks with a single minded concentration and a focus that more than made up for the lack of experience, or even his seemingly natural lack at being able to perceive and deal with tiny distinctions in multilevel systems.

Lucian was learning fast.

In the meantime, I was working with Sephael’s books. He knew this well enough but never asked me at mealtimes what I had learned, and I never spoke about anything I found therein. The time would come, perhaps not now but surely at some point, when he would look at the books for himself and make up his own mind as to what learnings they may contain that were of relevance to him.

On a physical level, we were entirely dependent on the obedient horse people who fed us and supplied us for the asking, even with a form of a fermented juice that took the place of Lucian’s wine. We took turns on experimenting with its inherent patterns to try and change it into something that would please him more, and after a turn of the moon, we had arrived at  a reasonable approximation. We never gave up trying to improve on it, and this gave us a focus that reached into the mealtimes which were the only places left where we could stray from our narrow footbridge, carefully strung over the chasms of memory, doubt and insanity.

I went back to the fascinating riddle of the doorways. After going over Sephael’s recordings a number of times, I finally spotted the flaw in his reasoning and saw where he had gone wrong. It was an unusual mistake for him to have made, careful and logical worker that he was, and I put it down to his near death by burning. It had scared him and put a block in place, lest something of this nature should happen again.

He had conceived of the doorways as sinks in the fabric of space itself, like holes in the ground or in a field at night that you wouldn’t know where there until you fell into one. It took me long enough but eventually and finally it occurred to me that you could fly above that fabric and if you went high enough, you should be able to both see these sinks and map them easily enough.

The first time I tried I was only partially successful, yet even so I had seen clearly that I was right in my assumption. The problem lay in going high enough through the layers, for this space fabric was not flat but as deep as all there was, and it was very easy to get lost along the way.

Lucian was by then completely immersed in running objects forward and backward in time and gave me no heed at all, and I was sitting at mealtimes with pieces of ancient parchment and trying to figure out a way how to map what I had seen in such a way that it would retain some sense when transferred onto a flat piece of paper. We hardly glanced at each other and exchanged little more than a few nods and grunts, before rushing off to our various explorations once more that neither wished or cared to share with the other.

I never really resolved the mapping problems satisfactorily and in the end, sufficed with the fact that I could remember where the sinks were located, especially if I visited them. This gave me a sense of familiarity and of connection, and a map was building in my mind that was trustworthy enough if only I believed it; it was, truly, a better arrangement than the parchment.

Visiting the sinks was one thing, but stepping through them, another.

Sephael had learned by very painful example that this was not to be something you should try to do in body, and he had send his mind through the sinks instead, thinking that would be a safe way to go about it. And, to be sure, it was considerably safer than his other attempts, yet not safe enough by far, because the fourth doorway he moved through set him in a place that was so alien and cold, where no stars were left in an unbelievably empty sky, and where all movement had frozen and set to ice, beyond ice into a brilliant hardness such as you cannot conceive, and it had frozen his mind as much as it would have frozen his body. When he spoke of the place in his recordings, his eyes would take on a haunted look and he would shake. That was the last place he visited and the doorways remained closed after that.

I would need to find another option of exploring the doorways, to send perhaps just a part of me instead of all of me, and that proved to be a very difficult endeavour indeed. I couldn’t make it work and searched through the books for days, looking for any kind of insight on the question and finally found an off handed entry that referred to just that process of detaching a small part of your awareness and sending it off in some shape or form to bring back information, an old fashioned magic trick used by those who did not know how to negotiate the pattern world. He did not tell me, however, just how that was supposed to be accomplished, and for the first time in our parallel explorations, I sought Lucian’s thoughts on the subject.

To find him, I had to leave the tower too and did so most reluctantly, much to my surprise. I guess it must have been high summer by then, but still up here it was always bitterly cold yet the sun was searing on my face, unused once more to this kind of attack and sheltered as it had been for a long time.

I found him easily enough once I was clear of  the tower’s protections. He was miles away, down below and far over to the right, and he was engaged in doing something very complicated to some ancient glacier ice. I thought briefly about going to see him, but could not really face the clambering and climbing he actually enjoyed profoundly and decided to wait for his return.

I did not want to start another task, too deeply involved with the whole doorway problem as I was at the time, and for the first time in what seemed a long time, found myself with time on my hands, and nothing to do, and of course, immediately, I started to think of things that I shouldn’t be thinking of.

I took a swim in the pool to kill some time, very aware of how little I had used it since the water breathing incident, and I wished I had some way to just clear unwanted memories and associations from your mind to leave it clean and white, like a freshly bleached sheet of linen that lies in the meadow grass and dries bright under the summer’s sun.

Self-consciously I paddled around in the green sparkly water, uncomfortable at being naked which I never used to be, and aware that my body was in excellent condition, no longer as hard as it had become on the long ride from Merina, yet not as thin and useless as once it was. The longer I stayed in the pool, the more uncomfortable I became instead of finding gentle relaxation, until I gave up and stepped out of it, drying myself in an instant rush of water turning into steam and dissipating swiftly in the room, gave the black robe a good shake to delete all accumulated dirt and dove straight back into it.

I was full of nervous energy and didn’t know what to do with myself, so eventually I returned to Sephael's – my – room and lay back and played randomly selected diary entries until at long last, Lucian re-entered the tower.

He was in an excellent mood and actively looking for me.

I tuned out of the book and went to stand by the central lifting shaft to watch him appear, first his head, then the rest of him and he was hiding something behind his back.

He stepped lightly out of the shaft and actually smiled at me.

“I have brought you a gift,” he said and produced that which he had been concealing.

It was a small statue, about the height of his palm, a shape in the likeness of a bird, in a sparkling, milky white. I took it from his hand and it felt quite warm, yet as soon as I touched it, I became aware of an enormity of weight, age, and an intense cold as well. It was quite extraordinary. Entirely smooth the surface, with the shape suggested rather than carved out in detail, a long slender beak that ran to a point and lifted high, merging into a bird’s streamlined head, long neck and oval body, tapering at the end.

The base was rounded and the object itself entirely unique.

“This is wonderful,” I said with amazement and looked from the bird to him, standing and watching me with a mixture of pleasure and intense embarrassment. “What material is this?”

He looked down for a moment and then raised his eyes to meet mine.

“It is a glacier,” he said.

I reached into the pattern myself and oh! Dear creator! He was not jesting. He had packed the pattern so tightly, there was hardly any space at all, a lattice of such strength that it even exceeded the ancient rings by far. But that was not all. He had somehow found a symmetry that balanced out nearly all of the weight inherent in the structure. The bird was, indeed, an entire glacier, locked solid in time and reduced into the space and lightness I was holding in my hand.

I was seriously impressed and fought for words, but he was well pleased with my response as it was, speechlessness being the ultimate accolade under certain circumstances.

“Thank you,” I finally managed to say, and thought, such a gift is worthy of someone who is far more than me.

He smiled and gave a little bow, then walked past me on the way to his room to wash up before mealtime, leaving me with the glacier bird in my hand and a dawning appreciation of what Lucian would be able to do with a few years of practice and the support of the patterns he had not yet learned about.

I was still carrying the bird when I joined him in the morning room. He had already acquired the usual food on the straw mat, had changed the gourd of fermented swill into our latest on the subject of red wine, and was sitting in one of the two high backed chairs he had made from the tower material as one of his very first projects. I sat down in the second, and placed the bird on my lap.

He glanced at it and couldn’t curtail another small smile.

“There is no need to keep carrying it around,” he chided me gently.

“I can’t put it down. I can’t believe you did that. Sephael couldn’t have done that.” I said, and that was the first breach of the silent agreement of one of the very many unmentionable subjects that always lay between us.

Lucian just raised an eyebrow and replied, “I’m sure he had better things to do than fashion things from snow.”

“Well yes, but that’s not the point. What I mean is, he couldn’t have done that even if he’d wanted to or his life depended on it. He didn’t have that much control over base patterns, not even near.”

Lucian found that hard to swallow and a sharp line appeared between his eyebrows. “But it isn’t that hard?” he enquired, a little nervously. The thought that Sephael might not have been the last word in magic had perhaps not yet occurred to him at all.

“The thing is,” I said slowly, stroking the head and the beak of the bird in my lap and marvelling at how it could both feel quite warm yet contain this vastness of  ancient ice inside, “the thing is that Sephael was far more interested in the older magics, the magic of the artefacts and symbols, created by those who build this tower. I think if he had given more attention to the base patterns, he would have never had the problems that he did; I think he was under the mistaken impression that the ancient magic was somehow better, more worthwhile.

Lucian drank from the gourd and then became aware of it in his hand, looked at it as though he had never seen it before, and frowned again.

“I will make some glasses, next time. Something of use,” he said.

The bird sat in my lap, light enough to take flight and bring forth wings from its sleek body that undoubtedly were just folded for now as it was resting.

“May I ask you a question?” I said, dreamily.

“Of course,”  he replied, leaning forward to help himself to one of the more juicier types of fruit. Everything seemed rather dry and lacking in moisture that the horse people so faithfully provided, each and every day.

“In your books on magic, have you ever come across a procedure whereby you split off a small  part of yourself and send it away so it becomes an autonomous messenger or observer?"

He halted in mid bite of the fruit and shut his mouth again, balancing the fruit on the arm of his chair instead and turned to look at me.

“Indeed I have, and surely, you must know that too?”

I sighed. “I try to avoid calling on your memories if I can. I fall into them, head first and they take me over. I have a really hard time coming back into myself, harder each time.”

He laughed at that. “No need to tell me about that,” he said dryly. “I have the same problem. Fruit eating has never been quite the same.” With that, he picked up the fruit and took a cautious bite, as though it was a living creature that still had some powers to bite you back if you were not very careful.

As I did not respond, he ate about half of the fruit in silence whilst he pondered my question.

Eventually, he send me an invitation/question. Do you want me to show you or tell you?

Show me please.

I am standing in front of the book shelves in the tower room with the wooden floor and the uncared for, half blind windows. I take down a particular book, leather bound and very, very old indeed, the binding cracked and curling in on itself, the thick pages hand cut and hand stitched, uneven.

The lettering is ornate in thick colour ink and when I carefully turn the pages, I come to an illustration that shows a falcon shape, detaching from the head of a man and bound to him by a thin cord.

On the facing page are the instructions on how to perform a ritual to accomplish the messenger manifestation.  It is written in an ancient language that no-one speaks today, but it was one of the many things that Sephael made me learn a word rotely remembered, one at a time. I translate it in my head as I go through, distorting the grammar but the meaning is clear enough.

Is this what you wanted?

Yes. Thank you.

The link dissolves and I am back in my chair, considering the silly ritual that surrounded a single central point, which was that what you had to do to create an imaginary shape was to give it so much attention that it would become, tasking it and sending it out. It shouldn’t be hard at all. I look down at the glacier bird and smile to myself. I wouldn’t be sending out a falcon shape, either.

For the first time ever, Lucian asks me, “So what are you working on? Why do you need a messenger?”

I explain the doorways and the problems Sephael had with them, and Lucian nods and listens with interest as I go into the details of how far I had gotten with my own explorations on the subject. He asks intelligent questions, shows concern for my safety and in the end, I invite him to come and look at the map with me.

We link lightly and I show him, first the flat perspective that Sephael had been trying to work with, and then the raised perspective that clearly showed the doorways like dew drops in a spider’s web.

I note his fascination and finally, I ask him if he wished to work on the doorways with me.

We dropped the link and considered the safety of this proposal in our separate minds.

After a while, Lucian began to speak, in a low, contained voice, as though he was talking to himself, his eyes on the fire.

“When I was out there in the fields of ice, amongst the mountain, shifting things, moulding things, I found myself thinking. And whatever I was thinking, it always came back to you.

It always comes back to you.

I am thinking that you were right about my learning of the patterns. I am thinking, this girl, she is mad. She is quite mad in her devotion and her simple illusions. Yet I cannot reconcile with the simple fact that she rode across a continent to find me, and that in all the times, all the places, I have never known another that I would trust as I trust her. In all the times, and anywhere I have ever been, I have never known anyone better than this girl, and I have never cared for another as I care for her. Now this may not be very much, and indeed, compared to other men it may well be very little, but it is the truth. She even rocks me to sleep at night and guards my dreams.

When I wished to shape the glacier I saw no reason to do it for me, yet to make a trinket for her seemed a good enough reason at the time, because I knew it would please her.”

He pauses and takes a drink from the gourd. I sit riveted, afraid to death that he will tell me to leave again or renege on our bargain and ask for his life. My hands close around the bird in my lap and I find solace in its icy strength.

Lucian continues.

“I look upon her real, or sometimes just imagined, and the question comes to me as to whether I could love her, whether it was possible at all. I don’t think that it is, yet I used to think that of the magic and here I am, turning mountains into dust at will.”

He laughs lightly and without any humour whatsoever, then he raises an eyebrow at his own thoughts and finally turns to me, looks at me and stretches forward to hand me the gourd.

I take it from him although it is an effort to unwrap my fingers from the bird and make sure that I don’t have to meet his eyes. I am wondering if he is waiting for a response from me but I’m too scared to say anything at all.

Gently, he says, “Don’t be afraid. I shan’t jump up and start screaming, at least I don’t think I will. I feel a debt to you, and I feel I should fulfill an obligation yet the thought …”

I shake my head then. “Not a debt, nor an obligation. I want you to want me as much as I want you. No pledges, debts, words of honour or kneeling for the striking of a sword.”

He smiles and says, “It is not for the lack of wanting, I assure you.”

I sigh deeply. “Then trust me and take me and be done with it.”

He stops smiling and says very seriously, “I will try to kill you.”

“I am aware of that.”

“I will at the very least hurt you terribly.”

“I am aware of that also.”

He gets up from the chair and recovers the gourd, looks down inside it and takes a drink with a grimace.

“You say you are aware, but you cannot know.”

“I can’t know and neither can you until it has been done.”

“That’s true.” He flops back into the chair and crosses his leg, looking up to the ceiling.

All of a sudden, it strikes me what his real fear is and I speak it to him.

“Are you afraid I won’t love you anymore because you hurt me?”

He considers the statement and nods lightly, his eyes still on the ceiling.

“Yes. That and the fact that you might not be as strong as you think you are, either in body, or in mind.”

It is my turn to produce a humourless laugh.

“Ah well,” I say. “You can tell my corpse that you told me so all along and have the victory of righteousness.”

He turns his head and shoots me a glance. He did not find that comment amusing in the least and I send him a small apology  - look, I am afraid as well, yet I am willing to take the risk. Out loud, I say, “Look how much you find joy in the patterns. You never know. You will never know …” and let the sentence drift and stand unspoken in the quiet room.

I can feel him struggling with himself and it occurs to me that perhaps the time for talking and talking and dodging and hiding is well past. He is here, he is lying in that chair with nothing but a half empty gourd balanced on his stomach to protect him. He is less than a man’s length away from me, and balanced on a knife’s edge with his decision. If I have learned anything by now is that a balanced system is the easiest one to shift to your will – this way or that, it is easy once you have decided which you want.

I get up and carefully place the bird on the seat of the chair.

I walk over to him and take the gourd, place it on the floor. He looks up at me with real fear now, a strange thing for such a big man, and I sent just the slightest hint of soothing as I gently turn and sit on his lap. He closes his eyes, a painful expression comes into his face and he shakes his head but I am through with letting him run away and turn at the hip and lay myself on his chest, taking my time to let the tips of my breasts touch him for a good two breaths before releasing my weight to him completely. I stroke his hair and then I kiss his mouth. Beneath my buttocks, I can feel a hardness and he takes me by the shoulders and tries to push me away, but this time I won’t let him, using unfair pattern work to weaken his muscles and his wrists so he can’t even hold me off anymore. He links to me and asks me not to proceed, to not make him do this and I send flat denial and pull his head closer towards me and kiss him hard, my arms wrapped tight about his neck. Inside, he is struggling for control with ever growing desperation as a fiery wave begins to rise deep in the very centre of his body, an energy beginning to roar and lash, and I resist the temptation to sabotage his defences like Sephael had done and instead, stretch myself fully across him so I can bring my legs astride and push into him, moving my hips in his lap in time with the crashing energy rhythms inside his body and finally, with a silent scream he crumbles.

His arms lash about me hard as wood and painful as taunt ropes, driving my breath out of my lungs, and he gets up from the chair, lifting me as though I was weightless and throws us both to the hard ground, and he truly falls upon me, tearing at my neck and throat with his teeth, pushing my legs apart  and pinning me down with his weight and I am panic and pain and I try to fight him off as he batters himself against me, there is a tearing lightning pain as he forces himself inside me and I am screaming and thrashing, ineffectively clawing at his neck and shoulders and feeling his teeth in my neck, my shoulders, his fingers digging and his nails breaking my skin along my side and somewhere, from somehow I regain a focus and repair myself as fast as he is damaging me, not resisting, letting the storm sweep over me building to its climax now, his hands around my throat and his eyes entirely unseeing of me as he releases himself into me and then lets go and falls heavily across me, breathing hard.

He has crushed my throat and I repair it hurriedly so that I can breathe again, then turn my attention one by one to the major pains that inhabit nearly the entirety of my body, dealing with them one at a time, in descending order of severity. By the time Lucian drags himself away from me I sit up amidst the pool of my own blood, quite perfectly restored and fairly tranquil from what I can observe.

Lucian is breathing hard, heaving and retching. He is going to be sick. I get up too quickly, nearly slip in the blood and slide across to him, put my arms about his shoulders and send him some comfort. As soon as I do that, he throws up in a spasm, wine mixed with generous quantities of my own blood, a truly unholy mess spilling out across the pretty golden floor. I hold his forehead and his shoulders until he is just retching and there is nothing left for him to throw up, trembling all over and his mind a terrible state. I turn him towards me then and take him in my arms, his head falling heavily over my shoulder, holding him tight and sending him wave after wave of soothing and of calm, of centred relaxation and the message, over and over again, it is alright.

We have done it, we have survived, it is alright now. All is well.

I don’t know how long we were kneeling there, but eventually it seems that I’m getting through to him and piece by piece, the hurricane of his thoughts and feelings begins to ebb, slowly at first, and then steadily with every thought and wave I send to him, until all is silent and we know the storm has passed. I continue stroking his hair for a while longer and finally, he takes a deep shuddering breath and moves away from me, sits back on his heels and looks around. His eyes darken and he cannot look at me.

“Look at us,” I say into the silence. “Is this what they mean when they talk of a blood bath?”

He gives a half breath that may well have been a small laugh and then we look at each other. Both of us are covered in blood – my blood, to be sure –  our hair is thick with it, our faces are streaked with it, running down our necks and sticking the black garments to us. My hands and arms are red and so are his, and so are our feet and what parts of leg are visible beneath the stiff and blood-soaked robes.

I reach out and touch him on the shoulder, and he withdraws from me. But I won’t have it, I won’t have his shame, or embarrassment or whatever else he chooses to put upon himself so he can feel even worse and writhe in guilt for weeks on end, or perhaps forever. I slither a little closer and very firmly place my hand on the back of his neck, half stroking, half massaging it, the blood sliding my hands with sensuous ease. He glances at me briefly and then reluctantly looks into my eyes.

Very seriously and slowly, I tell him: “So, that was that. Now we know what happens and what to expect. Next time, we can plan some changes and some interventions, and we’ll make sure there is a waste disposal nearby for you to throw up in afterwards.”

He shakes his head but does not try to move away from my hand on his neck. “Next time?” he says hoarsely.

“Yes, sure.” I say and a little bubble of laughter comes from somewhere which I rapidly suppress and say all innocently, “We get cleaned up and do it again, what do you say?”

For a moment he is shocked into speechlessness, then he realises I am joking and although he tries to fight it, he cannot suppress a snort, and then a full laugh. “You are absolutely insane,” he gasps, “don’t you know I am an old man?” and then both of us are laughing helplessly amidst the terrible mess and the stench of blood and vomit and curdled wine.

When we finally managed to pull ourselves together, I pushed out of my robe in disgust and so did he. We left them on the floor and walked to the pool room, and he put his arm around my shoulder as we went.

Still tracking partial footprints in blood, I jumped straight into the pool and Lucian slid in after. We scrubbed and submerged for a time, and then he swam across to me and looked me over.

“Not a mark on me,” I said and turned in the water for him to see. Experimentally, he reached out and touched my shoulder with a careful fingertip and I had no objections to the touch.


I moved up towards him and put my arms about his neck, then wrapping my legs about his waist, letting him and the water support me. He responded immediately both with an instant stiffening of his penis and an instant fear and attempt at pushing me away.

“Trust me,” I said into his ear and reached inside his mind. After a short hesitation, he put his resistance aside and let me in. There was the storm, swirling behind the desperate walls of his control but it was not yet so fierce that it was even threatening to overwhelm his defences. Gently, I began to dismantle them and when he howled with fear and protest I asked him to just link with me and trust me. I took the defences down and the storm rushed forward, but this time it was not an insane force that tears away everything that stands in its way, it was just a storm. His arms went around me and his head went down on my neck, and he pushed himself inside me hard but without violence, and when he bit down on my neck there was no tearing motion there. I let myself become one with the storm then and it flew across and found its counterpart within myself, sending lightning into my breasts and between my legs, making my mouth as hungry for his skin as he was for my blood. All reduced itself to the responses of my body to mine, until he lost his footing and we both fell and submerged, flailing wildly and coming apart.

Gasping, we came to the surface of the water and Lucian started to laugh uncontrollably, went to me, still laughing, swept me up in his arms and deposited me on the side, then easily levered himself from the pool with his strong arms. I moved back from the side a little way, looking up at him and he knelt between my legs, put his hands on my breasts and we resumed the link, the storm, and all the damage we did to each other were deep scratches on his back, bruises in the shape of his fingers on my arms and shoulders and both our necks with deep and ruby bite marks at the end.

Did it change everything?

I thought so at the time, especially that night when I slept in his bed, snuggled closely to him at last, and we lay in relaxation and breathed as one. I had not healed my neck and it was throbbing there, a reminder and a badge of honour that we had overcome this challenge, and if I was a silversmith, I would fashion the wound into a brooch and make it intricate and shining and wear it with pride.

I was happy and Lucian let me be. Neither of us questioned or probed too deeply although, had I been honest with myself, I would have known that it was far too easy, far too easy by far.

Lucian made things.

He made wine glasses, and a dagger that had a flowing layer invisible on the top side of the blades that could cut through stone with ease. He made me a comb and one night, he took the two halves of the blue tapestry and put it back together, a difficult task as each strand of the weaves had to be matched and re-united, one by one, with no shortcut rippling possible and the necessity to re-create missing pieces.  When he had finished it, he looked down at it with a terrible sadness, left the tower and did not return for many hours.

I never asked him what happened and we pretended to go along as though it never was, and yet my sides had ached with missing him whilst I lay sleepless and alone and tried to think of nothing.

I went back to the doorways and learned to send a small part of myself, attached to a silvery filament that could stretch into infinity itself, to find out what was on the other side.

Most were strange and truly alien places, rocky for the most part, and some had the wrong suns altogether, too far away or of a colour that makes you think you walk in nightmare. Once, I came across an awful place with ruins so old they had worn away to mere outlines beneath a sky that sparked with endless falling stars.

I began to understand why Sephael had abandoned his explorations. Each doorway was harder to enter than the next, even if it was only my white glacier bird that would swoop and fold its wings and dive into the sink like you would enter into a still pool.

The sheer alieness of the places shocked me every time, and their lifelessness and terrifying silences. After each visit, I would wonder about my feelings of dread and depression as I lay and tried to steady my racing heart as best I could. At first, I thought it was just death that permeated all these places, but later it occurred to me that here was worse than death, a death that had happened so unknowably long ago that it itself had died and all its memories had fallen to ashes and dust.

One day, not long after the visit to the ruined place, Lucian showed me a necklace he had made for me. It was truly and amazingly beautiful, an interlacement of a bright silver metal in segments that moved like the skin of a snake and I full well knew that it wasn’t anything like silver at all. In the centre it bore a flashing red jewel of such depth and richness of fire that it took my breath away. He had trapped a real fire from below the mountains to create this and seal it into itself for his own amusement and my decoration. I let him bond it around my neck and it sat perfectly shaped to me, the jewel right at the base of my throat. I touched it reverently with my fingertips and wished for a mirror. Lucian, who was still behind me, put his arms about me, catching my hands in his and placed his mouth in my hair.

Across the room from us, the entire wall began to waver and distort, running into itself and when it stabilised, it had become a giant mirror, reflecting with intensest clarity the morning room in pale gold and with it, two figures dressed in identical black, a white haired man and a red-haired woman who was wearing a flashing jewel at her throat such as would befit a queen.

I watched the man begin to nuzzle at the woman’s neck and I felt what she felt. I watched his great hands find her breasts and then slide down her hips to raise her gown, revealing her legs, white and stark against the backdrop of his own floor length black robe. He pulls the gown up and she raises her arms obediently so he can, a sliding of snake smooth fabric at a time, remove the garment altogether.

The woman, only dressed in the necklace now, remains standing with her arms above her head. The man steps up to put his arms around her again but hesitates and follows her glance to the great mirrors. Keeping his eyes on her alone, he begins to stroke her and caress her whilst she continues to stare at the woman in the mirror, being touched and it feels so real and yet it is nothing more than a reflection, ten paces or more across the golden marble floor.

There is a far away vibration that I cannot place, and then the naked woman begins to lose cohesion, swirls and disappears, revealing nothing but a blank wall of golden marble with a window set into a recess, a little way off the central to the right.

The vibration comes again and I recognise it now. It is Lucian’s voice, and he is speaking to me. I turn towards him and am not quite sure if he is real or another reflection of me, or of him, or of both of us. He enfolds me in a warm embrace and I can hear him speaking into my mind as well but it is impossible to understand him at all.

Then the room spins as he picks me up and carries me out and through a darkness before laying me down in the soft, looking down on me and his face so serious, like he was not a living man but cut from stone. He strokes my cheek and my neck with the back of his hand and I lean into his touch, closing my eyes so I have no longer to see him be serious and hard, immortal.

His fingers feel rough and vibrate my skin, pulling on it minutely as he traces my eyebrows, touches my lids and causes yellow red explosions in my vision, sweeping down across the side of my face and to my lips. I open my mouth slightly and wait but the touch leaves me and I am all alone within my body, confused and still I cannot understand what he is saying to me or what he wants.

Just come to me, just be inside me. Let your hot hard body and your living, breathing touch distract me, make me forget all and reduce me to the pain and pleasure that you are to me, that I am to you. Come to me.

As in response, I can feel his breath on my face, and then his lips are on mine and I greedily suck his tongue into my mouth. When he lays across me and pushes himself inside me with urgency, I start to cry. By then, his teeth are on my neck, biting lightly in a shadow remembrance of what he used to do and for a time he doesn’t notice at all that I am convulsing with sobbing whilst my hips reach up to his in time and my arms are holding tightly to his neck and shoulders as though he could somehow save me from drowning.

He leaves my neck and returns to my mouth and it is then that he becomes aware of the wet salty taste and the noises that I am making and he opens his eyes and looks at me, his hips still pumping away at me and slowly losing their natural rhythm and then he stops deep inside me.

I can see his mouth moving yet there is no sound. I can feel a sparking of orange and blue come from his head but there is no resonance. His eyes are such a beautiful colour, a clear rock pool, cool and soothing and I would want to lay myself amidst its gentle currents and wash all and everything there ever was straight from my mind, from my body or my very soul, indeed.