When the dust had cleared and the tower had stopped shaking, and the terrible noise had ceased apart from little cracklings and in-between crashes as further pieces of stone were working themselves loose, I crept out from behind the doorway where I had lain hiding, wrapped around the sword and fearing for my life.
I cast around for Lucian and found him easily, the structures of the tower no longer functioning and there being a tremendous silence on that level which was at least as uncomfortable to bear than the continuous humming had been when first I came to stay here.
He was badly hurt, unconscious but alive, buried somewhere between the 6th and 7th level under a considerable amount of rubble.
With the lifting shaft gone, I had to translocate to reach him, and that was a terrible effort, used to as I was by then to the support from the tower networks, but luckily, it wasn’t so far and although I nearly fainted with the effort, I found myself dropping down from about half a man’s height straight onto some upturned slabs of cutting marble rock.
I grazed my thigh and actually managed to tear a great gash into the Serein fabric of my robe, something that I had thought was quite impossible to do.
Lucian lay face down under a huge collapsed section of wall, with rubble all around him and a hundred small cuts bleeding on his face, hands outstretched in front of him, blackened and burned. I couldn’t see anything beyond his lower back, but his legs were smashed entirely and mangled and his spine broken in numerous places. He was bleeding internally and he would be dead within the hour.
I woke him without mercy.
His eyes flicked open, and creator, I still cannot stand to look into his eyes without loving him. He tries to cry out but can only produce a strangled wailing sound; the pain from his injuries is intense even though he can’t feel a thing below the waist.
I reduce the level of pain to a threshold where he can think quite clearly and he stops his moaning and tries to lick his dusty cracked lips, attempts to focus on me. His burned hands twitch ineffectually.
“So,” I say to him. “Are you quite satisfied now or would you have me restore you once more, so that next time you bring the whole world to an end?”
He tries to speak but he can only manage a croak. He tries to swallow down some dust and makes another effort.
“Peace,” he whispers, and I catch a glimpse of what he means by that.
The man is such a fool.
“Let me show you your peace, and then we’ll see if that is what you really want,” I say and note how bitter my voice is, how angry I am at him, how tired I am, how terribly and bitterly tired I am of struggling with his insanity and unpredictability. It was just sheer luck either of us survived this last attack at all, and fool that I am, I had actually handed him the tools of destruction on a scale that far exceeded stabbing at his own genitals with a shard of glass.
I roughly force him into a link, and take us both into the layers where the doorways are. This is very hard to do without any support from either tower, or a singing stone, but I will not stand for this nonsense any longer and just push my way brutally through the patterns and out and into the doorway domains. I find the place where the ancient ruins lie and force us both straight through and into that awful place.
My anger is protection, but Lucian is in pain, exhausted and cannot defend himself from the onslaught of the terror of this alien death that has already died. He reels back, tries to escape but I force him to be there, to experience the reality of the peace he thinks he seeks, the unbearable desolation and the end of all things.
Is this what you want, Lucian? Well here it is. I can leave you here if you wish, then you can have your peace and I can have mine. So tell me, is this what you want?
Please what, Lucian?
No more …
No more what, Lucian?
Please don’t hurt me anymore …
I am not hurting you. You said you wanted peace.
Not this …
So what? What, do tell me, is your illusion of peace?
From far away, a small crying begins, like that of a lost and lonely child.
I will not relent.
I can not relent.
Please what, Lucian?
Please take me home …
And I cannot keep my anger then and I gently enfold him and take us out of there, rising high above the levels and return us to the now.
He is lying face down, covered in dust and ash, his eyes are closed and he is crying. Slow, thick tears are tracking down and making riverbeds across his cheek, running down across his nose and merging with the dust on which he lies.
I watch him and I try to remember how long it was since last he cried.
He coughs and the pain crosses the threshold; bright red blood splatters from his mouth against the stone and dust and dark places where his tears have landed; it turns his lips to vermilion brightness.
“Lucian,” I say with tiredness. “You are dying. I will not save you again unless you want me to. I cannot go on any longer with this, no matter how much I love you, or perhaps because I love you so much. I cannot bear the thought of being without you, but I cannot bear to see you suffer like this any more.”
He opens his eyes slowly. His breath is shallow, rasping, causing small blood bubbles to form and recede in the corners of his mouth. He cannot speak and is too weak to attempt to link with me, so with a breaking inside me that forces tears through my own eyes now, I join him gently.
I am right here, my love.
I am hurting.
I know, my love.
It was all lies.
Yes, it was, my love.
It hurts, bad.
I gently make his pains recede and feel his sigh of relaxation and relief. His mind clears with the absence of the pain.
Was you loving me a lie?
No, my love.
Is there any justice?
I think there is. I think we can make a justice if we want to.
I am afraid.
I know, my love.
He is beginning to lose cohesion and now I am afraid. Up until this moment my resolution to see it through to the end was strong, but now, here, and faced with the direct vision that he might go from me any moment now and never would return, I cannot contain myself and all of me cries out in thought and word,
“Lucian, please don’t leave me.”
There is a small stirring and a spark of awareness rising, and soft as a whisper, the answer comes, I don’t want to be alone.
I don’t want to be alone either, my love, my own true love. Please don’t leave me here by myself. Please Lucian. Don’t leave me here.
I don’t want to go. Not there. I am afraid.
Then stay with me my love. Say the word and we can be together, but it must be by your choice this time, it must be your decision.
Will you take me home?
I will take you home.
Do you promise?
I promise my love. Upon my life, I will take you home.
(Relief, sadness, a coming to me, a laying at my breast, a falling to me, and I catch him and steady him as I fight back the gathering tides of darkness around his mind and his body, fighting silently and grimly for it is nearly too late, fighting harder than I have ever fought, all alone, just me, no stone to help, no tower to give me wings, a single pattern at a time, a strand reconnected, a star of healing spreading all across his broken body, mending, restoring, soothing, and finally, the dark tide recedes, a little at a time, and I have won him back)
I am trembling from head to foot with the effort expended. He is restored to the degree that he might live but there is still so much damage to be repaired, and there is still a wall on his back. Painfully, I touch the patterns of the marble and am so grateful that this is of the malleable tower material that still responds to the slightest touch and twist of its strands and I flow it away like water, dripping it down the cracks in the floor until Lucian lies, revealed.
I crawl to him on my hands and knees, let myself drop to the rubble by his side, and mould myself against his body, thinking to take just a brief rest and the next thing I know, I am freezing cold, it is windblown, pitch dark and Lucian is wrapping an arm around me, the pain in his burned hands excruciating yet firmly controlled. He touches me with his mind, more open and unrestrained than I have ever felt him, and sends me warmth and soothing.
Eventually, I stop shaking and in return, take the pain from his hands. He sends a sigh of gratitude and wraps himself more closely around me, as best as he can in the absence of any response from his lower limbs.
I’ve made a terrible mess (apology, a touch of dry humour).
I send him a smile in return, I can't help myself. Yes, you did.
How are you?, he asks after a while.
Warmer, better. Not so tired.
That is good.
A thought strikes me: Do you think the horse people are still waiting for us?
Lucian actually starts to laugh, and stops when this causes him considerable pain.
We’ll go tomorrow.
Now I have to laugh because how can there be anything other than this time, this space, lying in the rubble of the ruined tower that was supposed to have stood here until the stars fell from the sky? It is so very dark that I can hardly make him out at all, yet on the other levels he is clear and bright and different, less shielded. I am going to stop trying to avoid things with him and I ask him clearly, Do you remember what happened?
(Sighlike) I do.
And are you still seeking peace?
(Smile) Not that kind of peace.
I smile in relief in return and snuggle a little closer still. He raises his head and gently kisses my hair.
Will you marry me?
I can’t believe I just heard what I heard and respond with a most unladylike, reflexive, “What?!”
He clears his throat and says, “Will you do the honour of being my wife?”
I still cannot believe he is actually saying those words to me and I try to escape by saying, “You just want me to repair your legs.”
I am not at all prepared for the depth of hurt that comment causes in an instant, and I am horrified and sorry.
“Oh Lucian. I thought you were playing with me,” I say to him and extend everything I have in the way of abject apology.
His body relaxes and he takes a deep breath in the windswept darkness.
“It is strange,” he says, his voice close to my ear. I love his voice. I have always loved his voice and can not believe I came so close to losing its feel and sound.
“I was concerned with illusion, with lies. What illusion is it to have a woman be with you, to lie with her, to fight with her, to have her save you, follow you to the most forsaken of places at the ends of the world, to not be able to conceive of a life without her, and still go on lying to yourself and say that she is of no consequence? I dreamed, and in my dream the illusion spoke loud and clear and reminded me that the illusion is a reality. You are here. I am here. We are no more masters than we are apprentices to anyone. I would you would be my lady, the words spoken that acknowledge, name and make become, as you are by rights.”
I can’t reply, his sober words of truth and surrender causing a riot of emotions that I cannot entangle to name a single one. There are fears of all kinds, sadnesses, hopes and pleasures, tired amusements and little flashes of surprise, all mixed up together in swirl. A thousand questions I would ask of him, streaming through my head and fighting for the use of my mouth and tongue.
“Do you truly want me?”
“I have never known another.”
There is such a terrible sadness in his voice it constricts my throat. Here we lie, in the ruins of the windswept tower. His back is broken and he asks me to be his wife. It is all I have ever wanted, from the moment I saw him or perhaps, by then the longing was so old already it was like a wound I thought would never heal. I never knew I had been this lonely, lonely as the fading ruins beneath the sky that sparks with a thousand falling stars. I don’t know how but there I knew that place existed inside him too, it made the connection between us and only one brave enough to have knowledge of such things can fill it, can stand beside you and make you laugh at it together, hand in hand like children, running through the soft swept remnants of the Silver City that once stood, and where we run, we leave a trail of mist behind us that settles and soothes the ruins to final oblivion, to a final resting place that can be new and easy, where there are no admonitions of the past but a clear plane view that stretches to the deep horizon.
“It would be my greatest honour,” I say into the dark, to all who may listen invisibly, to all the night ears and night feelers, to the winds and to the mountains, and to him.
We lie silent and gently, softly, weave a new kind of link between us, not just warring mind to warring mind but one made up of more, of mutual surrender, memory to memory, his to mine, his unique pattern to mine, his ancient life to my spring existence, his strength to my passion. Together, we traverse the layers of his body and set to rights that which had been crushed and broken, with a new ease and surety, light of touch yet with unstoppable intent. We flow into me, too, and this finest of healings eases me and raises me to a difference that I have not known before.
When it is complete, we drift back into our selves but a resonance strong remains between us, an underlying connection that does not transmit crass thought but just an awareness of the other, and balancing one with the other in a complex dance that shifts like the wind, yet is steady in purpose.
Beside me, Lucian is moving, trying out his body, small distractions of sensation. I feel an urge to get away from here now, out of this rubble and he acknowledges me. A small blue light flares up in the darkness that surrounds us, unflickered by the cutting winds, making him look unreal and the same colour as the stones and crazily angled should-have-been verticals. We sit up simultaneously and look around.
A way to the right, there is a part of the floor missing, revealing a darkness below. Lucian gets up stiffly and with some difficulty in his balance; as he walks over to the gash, his step becomes more assured and he more lightly navigates the rubble and fallen marble shards. A second blue light appears and slowly descends into the wide crack, Lucian bends over to track its progress, his face most strangely illuminated from below.
He sits on the edge, and jumps down. I scramble to my feet as quickly as I can, the icy wind finding the tear in my robe and flapping it up my thighs; I don’t want to be bothered to stop and think about protection and clamber towards the hole in the floor.
He calls to me from below, and I sit uncomfortably on the edge too and make myself jump down into the blue filled emptiness below.
Lucian catches me.
We are much nearer the ground here, the last level of round tower before it becomes the squarer base buildings. I have never cleaned here nor explored.
But the wind is gone and there is a familiarity about the walls still standing after all, and the floor being where it was supposed to be, and even in the blue light that hovers to the side, the usualness of the dusty corridor we have landed in.
“We should rest until the morning comes,” remarks Lucian, and I am in agreement. We find a doorway to a mostly empty room where meetings might have been held once upon a time. We make a bed in one of the corners and he raises some columns to support the ceiling above, lest it should fall whilst we slept.
Out of the wind, we moved closely to another. The blue light quietly hovers and keeps the darkness at bay. My head on his chest, his arms around me, my hands tucked in beneath us, we lie and we do not speak. I marvel at the quietness and clarity of him this night; not peace, but a stillness that is not born of exhaustion or weariness for once.
I am not sure whether he is making me sleepy, but I can feel myself releasing, softening and feeling a safety in being with him, leaning into him, I cannot remember to have ever known.
We awoke together, in the way where you are awake yet you are not, drifting in and out of being, and a comfort you are reluctant to leave behind.
The blue light is still there but it is paled by daylight beyond the protective walls that encircle our bed.
The morning has come.
I am extremely hungry and I need to find a washroom. Eventually, the discomfort exceeds the desire to remain and I begin to untangle from him. He raises his hips so I can retrieve a part of my cloak that has trapped me tight and smiles with his eyes still closed, undoing his pretence of sleep.
I look at him smile and I cannot for a moment stop the feeling that I might have woken here alone this day, and the tower had become his mausoleum. It had been extremely close, closer than ever before. I wondered if he would admit to remembering having asked to marry me during the madness of the preceding night.
Be still, little one. What is done, is done.
His thought is friendly, loving even and achieves its intent. I am snapped right out of my spinning thoughts and decide to go looking for the washrooms of this level.
Eventually, I find one. There is no water being delivered and when I sweep the dusty mirror with my hand to create a set of streaks I have to laugh at the state of me. I look like an old woman, sleeping in the dust and rubble has turned my hair to grey, sticking up every which way in tangles and knots and my face is terribly dirty, streaked and spotted. It doesn’t tally with the queen’s necklace, unblemished, shiny and bright, with the red jewel flashing like the fire was trying to break free with a vengeance.
Magic has its uses.
I spend a considerable amount of time unwrapping the windings of my hair and letting all that was not meant to be a part of it slide and dissipate; then did the same to my skin, and lastly, to the gown and my shoes.
To all intents and purposes, I was cleaner than any washing could hope to achieve, yet it really wasn’t the same until I came up with the idea of having an imaginary sparkling waterfall appear above me and bring in that feeling and energy that water gives to you when you splash it on your face and body in the morning.
Feeling considerably brighter and better, I made my way back to our temporary nest, and in the corridor I met Lucian, having done exactly as I had in a different washroom, body and clothing restored, and we stopped and looked at each other.
I don’t know about this. There should be something to carry with you to know that the events of the last night really happened, that there was a day before this. He stood relaxed and watching me, and he had been entirely broken only such a few hours ago. There was not a stain or tear on his jacket, not a single blood spot on his trousers or his shirt. Not a single hint that anything had changed at all yet something nagged at me, something was different.
“Is this what you are looking for?” he asks and steps up closer, holding up his left hand to me.
His ruby ring is destroyed, the metal blackened, the setting twisted and the jewel itself has gone.
That is the strangest thing. It was so much a part of him as though it was his hair, or the colour of his eyes. I stared at the ruin of the ring.
“You could repair it?” I ask him uncertainly.
He nods, looking down at it too.
“I could, indeed.”
Clearly, he does not really want to do so. I have an idea.
“Would you like me to restore it for you, make it new?”
He considers, then smiles carefully. Lucian is not very good with smiling yet but he is certainly trying.
“That would be a better option,” he says, and lets the ring slide off his finger and into the palm of his waiting hand.
He hands me the blackened, charred thing.
“What were you doing up there?” I can’t help but ask.
He shrugs his shoulders and looks over my head, through the open doorway before which we stand, and finds a dust blind window in the empty room beyond.
“I threw lightning with my hands.” he says, eventually.
I look down on the object in my hand and track through its burned out, battered patterns. A storm of power far too great for it had rushed through it, like the wildest forest fire will leave just flattened, blackened stems where complex trees had stood in many shades of green and brown.
I look to my own ring for a help and guidance as to what there would have to be to make the ring come alive again, and the metal is quite easy to restore. I add a little twist of strength to the existing pattern and channels, should there ever be another rush of lightning, so it would be able to retain its integrity. A little personality of myself, as well, not too obvious but just there, below the surface, lightly interwoven with the structure and hardly noticeable.
As to the stone, now this was a different matter.
There was nothing left of the ancient ruby to use as a template for reconstruction and for a moment, I knew not what to do about that. I considered various possibilities, such as translocating a small piece of the tower’s marble into the setting and then change it but that didn’t feel right. In the end, what I wanted to do was to simply close up the patterns of the metal altogether so there would be a continuous flow and strength but that would make the ring into nothing more than a plain gold band and no comparison to what there had been when the ancient ruby flashed on his hand in fire or sun.
I would be glad to wear your wedding band.
I startle. Oh. Yes, of course, how stupid of me. A plain gold ring. A wedding band. I can feel my cheeks heating.
If I am to make a wedding band, then it will be such as has never been.
I return to the ring and this time, I allow myself to consider what Lucian is to me, and what my love for him represents in terms of strength, unity and even destiny. I feel him beside me, a unique entity such as there is no other nor ever could be, and I take that and weave from the patterns a meaning that is who he is to me, what he is to me, all my admiration, all my compassion, all my desire and all my love.
When I open my eyes, the ring is sitting in the palm of my hand, a paler gold than before, heavier than before, much heavier, and across its surface tiny lightning seems to play, lightning and darkening the gold in minute flashes.
It is unique.
I hold it out to him and he, in turn, holds his hand to me. I take his hand in mine and slide the ring across his middle finger, moulding it to the perfect fit so it cannot pass the knuckle.
I can feel his hand tremble in mine as I lock the ring and raise my eyes to meet his.
For the first time, I feel that he loves me as much as I love him and a bond passes between us that can not be broken. There is no priest to speak a ritual, but that was the day of our true wedding and we both knew it well.
“It is time we left here,” he says eventually and most reluctantly, I let go off his hand yet to my surprise, the lack of physical contact does not diminish the bond between us at all.
“Where will we go?” I ask of him.
He shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t suppose it matters much.”
It is true. For me it does not matter at all. I would go anywhere, even to the cold ruins, if only he was by my side.
There is no way out of the tower by bodily means now, the lifting shaft being as dead as all the rest of the systems, so we translocate to the outside and stand looking in the freezing brightness of what could be an autumn morning up at the destruction that Lucian wrought.
To be fair, it was an absolute miracle that we came out of this alive and well. Only a long, reaching section on the north side of the tower remained up to the third level, half a room perhaps, and that must have been where I had crouched as the walls blew apart around me. An accident of fortune, or had he even in his rage of destruction known just where I was, and kept that small part standing so that I would live?
Debris lay all around us and covered the mountainsides, black shards sticking from the rubble grey snow and burned flutterings everywhere. The base of the tower itself was cracked with great lightning streaks snaking here and there, and even the platform was jagged and some parts raised higher than others.
Lucian stands next to me, and I can bodily feel his desire building to erase the remaining structure altogether, levelling it, no, pulling every last piece of it from the mountain side like you would rip out a rotten tooth.
I look at the tower and my feelings are not the same. I sweep the area to find the guardian stone, but it has shattered and disintegrated when it was flung against the grey rocks and is no more than a collection of tiny dreaming pre-consciousnesses now.
Strangely, I feel neither bereavement, or pain this morning.
I cannot find a trace of Sephael’s recording devices anywhere. The must have been pulverised to their smallest components, and that may prove to be a loss.
Lucian hears that thought. I don’t want any that is of his.
It might have proven to be useful/helpful.
We make our own magic. Fresh, new. Without lies.
I give my acknowledgement.
Then, a thought strikes me with sincere horror, and I cry, “My bird! My glacier bird!”
Lucian turns to me, puzzled. Gently, he says, “I can make you another.”
I shake my head forcefully so my hair flies and nearly stamp my foot. “I want my bird back!” and my voice is high and petulant, like that of a child.
He gazes at me for a moment, then I can feel him reaching out and searching the area. A very short time later, above our heads, the small white statue winks into being and falls swiftly, and he catches it securely and easily in his outstretched hand.
He gives it to me and I take its warm/freezing little body, cup it in both hands. It is entirely untouched save for one small nick in the tapering tail. I trace it with my fingertip and in way, I am comforted. Should I ever forget what happened here during these past days and nights, should I ever return here and wonder if the tower had ever been here at all, the minute blemish in the perfection of the white bird will be my honest witness. I place it into the deep pocket of the black Serein robe and keep my hand wrapped about it.
“Would you have me find your singing stone?” he asks and I consider. It has been a good friend to me and helped me, no, more than that. My stone had really opened up the doors to magic and showed me the way to the pattern world. It was now somewhere out there, sleeping quietly amongst the ice and silence of the mountain range, a snug hibernation and a waiting for another who might need it, perhaps a hundred thousand years from now.
I shake my head.
“I have all and everything I want,” I tell him and he takes the time to give me another small smile before turning towards the tower, raising his hands, his shoulders flexing beneath his fitted black jacket, and I see for the first time how he draws energy into himself, spins it until it moves faster and faster, a gathering storm of tight control filling him entirely, to bursting, then beyond, and he releases it from his palms and fingertips.
Bright white fire rushes and strikes the remnants of the black tower, disintegrating everything it touches, shattering the very structure and setting an insane flying and hurtling of debris everywhere at once.
I shield us from the flying shards of marble and stone and watch in fascination as he erases the visible structures, then he raises the white fire straight into the sky above us, swirling the blue into a night black vortex and lightning strikes down and straight into the base of the tower, exploding the underground structures, deeper and deeper reaction until it reaches the very core of energy, deep below in the bedrock and the entire mountain begins to shake and the marble support beneath our feet cracks wide open.
“Lucian!” I cry to him on all levels and the white fire from his hands extinguishes in an instant, yet not so the lightning from the sky which still continues to discharge into the place where once the silver black tower had stood. He reels backwards, nearly falls, and I sweep him into an embrace of body and mind both and translocate us both with maximum effort.
We re-appear too high and crash into hard frozen snow at the same time as behind and above, the entire mountain seems to explode in a storm of fire and the earth trembles and rolls us down both, a deep slope, and we fall and crash against hard things whilst from above, it begins to rain fire and ashes.
I halt our fall and we scramble to take cover beneath a small overhang, holding on tightly to each other so we both fit beneath it, and when I can catch my breath again, I make a barrier to keep us safe there for the now. He is shaking in my embrace and it takes me a while to realise that he is laughing convulsively and so hard that no sound can escape his throat.
A fear crosses me that he is insane again, yet then there is the flash of the memory, standing as a small child and being so afraid in front of that tower, overlaid with the picture of him standing in front of the ruined tower and raising the very lightning from the sky to eradicate it.
Had I been him, I would have laughed as he did.
I held the barrier and I held him until both the fire storm and his laughter had subsided. The ground continued to tremble, yet slower than before, and beyond our protective barrier, there are the wide ranging rushings of avalanches and rock falls, as the shock waves travel through the entire mountain range and change it forever.
The sun is high above us in the sky when finally, the trembling has subsided to a low rumble now and then, and we emerge from our little shelter and look around.
There is no trace of there ever having been a tower at all, more, I can’t even tell just where it would have been. There is much ash strewn across the white of the nearby snow covered rock formations yet I can’t see the actual peak the tower had once been a part of.
I cannot see the roadway, either.
We are standing high up in the North Mountains, and the North Mountains are all there is, beneath an unbroken sweep of the most glorious royal blue.
Beside me, Lucian takes a deep, shuddering breath, then unexpectedly he pulls me into his arms and hugs me tightly, lifts me off the ground and spins us on the spot.
He sets me down again and his eyes are sparkling, a true smile on his face.
“This is the best day of my life,” he says sincerely and hugs me again.
I realise that I have never once known him be happy.
-- Book 1 Ends ---