I am shaking like a leaf. I am terrified that I might have lost him for good this time. I wish desperately that I had not shared my discovery with him but kept it to myself, extinguishing that life that I had found to be small sparking inside me without a thought and controlled myself better.
Oh sisters! Guardians of women! If you could really be true, be there in truth, would you come now and stand by me. I am spinning. How quickly can your mistakes undo you? Bitterly, bitterly, I wished I had had more resolve there in the nights with Conna. I knew I was doing wrong, doing wrong to me and all that I wanted to be, and still I didn’t stop it, I did nothing and I let me be taken in his arms time and time again, and oh creator, I wish it wasn’t true but it is, looked forward to those pleasures that were the only pleasures to be had in that place.
He was a wonderful lover. So different from Lucian, so much more knowledgeable in ways of a woman’s body and needs, so much more attuned to my pleasure, he made up a dozen times over for what he could not do because of age. And the pleasure he took from me, too, was so much more accessible than however I may please the man – or demon, what do I know – whom I worship above all others and for whom I would give my life in an instant if he but asked me for it.
I needed to support myself on the bedpost to make the few steps around the side and until I could let myself slide under the silky blankets, drawing away from the centre of the bed and ending up curled up tight at the foot, feeling right back to those days at Tower Keep when I knew myself to be nothing of consequence, utterly unloved and utterly abandoned.
Conna. I can still hear his voice, deep and ragged, telling me children’s bedtime tales so I would go to sleep and stop crying. I can still feel his touch and I cannot help but wish from the bottom of my heart that Lucian was just little more like him, a little more understanding, a little more accessible, just a little more human.
And none of that helps me with knowing that I should have never, never spoken Conna’s name that night, and if I had only said the other name, all would have been well and I’d now be in Lucian’s arms, instead of curled in a bundle of misery and a child I never wanted growing within me.
The thought of it made me sick. How could I possibly go through all the stages of showing clearly to the world how I had betrayed my love? How could I have a child – a child! By the creator! – anywhere near Lucian at any point, and least of all, Conna’s child he placed inside me sometime in those dark nights when indeed, I was his.
I was his.
I cannot cry, “Rape!” or offer any explanation other than pure weakness of will and volition. I didn’t try hard enough and I knew full well what stance Lucian took on those who were weak.
On those who betrayed him.
Simply, he would never forgive me for this.
Even if I could forgive myself, he would never forgive nor forget, no matter how much he claimed to be by the “What’s done, is done” rule he recited to himself like a prayer to ward off the truth that your execution is scheduled for the morning and you can clearly see the first light in the sky.
I wished I could cry some more, but I was all cried out then, and weakness befell me again, for what should my mind do but produce Conna’s voice, right behind my ear, his breath in my hair, beginning to talk to me, soothingly, with a simple tale of heroes of old, hesitatingly told but told with rhyme and rhythm and it was so soothing, so warming, that I fell asleep.
I awoke with a start and in my head, far, far away, I could hear Lucian screaming across the kingdoms.
The cry of utter distress lasted for about three heartbeats, then it shut off as though it had never been and left me in a profound silence with my heart beating like the hooves of a panicked horse in my chest and throat.
Frantically, I scanned for him even as I rolled over and out of the bed, casting around with my eyes for my robe and then remembering that it had gone for good.
There was not a trace of him anywhere to be found. For a moment, the room seemed to rush far away from me, and with it the serving woman staring at me in fear, backed up right against the chair in which she had been sitting and I had to hold on to the bedpost to steady myself.
I called him then, hesitantly at first for all that had transpired between us and unsure if I had just woken from a bad dream, and when there was no response at all, I called him loud, then louder still, then drawing on my deepest reserves and placed the vibration of his being into all the patterns and strands I had ever known, setting up a deep pulse that would travel on a long, long way, if not rush on until forever.
Watching the pulse recede, I strained to listen for an answer when I was interrupted by the woman’s voice, high pitched, unpleasant and shrill. I swiped her out of existence in a reflex and she fell and lay silent.
Listening. Scanning. Searching. And nothing in return.
There is a far away whisper at a different level. It is not Lucian, blatantly and at first my paranoia about the Serein returns full force, until I recognise the voices. It’s Reyna and the children at Headman’s Acre.
Did you hear that?
Yes we heard the one you call Lucian.
I experience a strange sense of relief that is also and immediately a high flash of fear. I had not imagined it.
What happened? Do you know?
(Non-knowing and concern) Will you answer his call?
Of course! If I can find him. It sounded as though it was very far away?
It is there? (a direction, a depth and a width and I sense a shielded trace pattern – oh dear Creator, it is him. A long way away, but he’s there, he’s alive and the shielding is of his own doing!)
Thank you! I will go to him immediately.
(Assistance sincerely offered)
(Accepted with gratitude and a small amount of surprise)
I am alone, back in the room. Alone? I look to the serving woman and realise with a start that I have killed her with one single careless reflex of a thought, and worse, I feel nothing as I look at her head, fallen sideways, her cap displaced and long strands of curly deep copper hair escaping limply, hands open in her lap.
For a heartbeat I begrudge the energy expenditure it will cost me to take her back a minute through time and don’t even admonish myself for the feeling, just let it pass and lay that field around her in which time becomes entirely meaningless, slowing it pattern by pattern, strand by strand, before turning it the other way into the reversal process that Lucian originated by accident. There is a great deal of her and it isn’t easy to hold it all together when there is so little will on my part, but the time span is short and soon, she breathes again. I hold her still and tell her in no uncertain terms to be quiet and let me go about my business, branding the instruction a little tighter than necessary.
She flinches in pain and fear and goes small and still.
Her very existence drops away as soon as I turn my eyes on that stupid green dress I had been wearing for the parade. There is no way I can be asked to don it for my rescue and retrieval mission to who knows where, and so I turn to the wardrobes and find clothing from our officer friend, shrinking and re-patterning excellent fabrics that are deeply cohesive and easy to work with in a flash, and soon I am dressed in a sombre yet well cut dark blue set of trousers and short jacket, white shirt and matching cloak of paler blue. I fasten the cloak’s clasp around my throat and my hands contact with an emptiness there, that’s where my mountain fire diamond had sat ever since he placed it around my neck for the second time at Tower Keep, and it was not something you wear and don’t notice, I had always been aware of its weight around my neck and the restrictions it caused on my movements.
I went into the main room and hesitated briefly before gathering up the jewellery that lay abandoned on the bed and put the two rings and the necklace into the my new jacket’s pocket. I briefly adjusted the cloak then turned my attention to the problem of getting to where he was – it was a very long way away.
Translocation was out of the question. Even if I could manage the energy required for such a distance, I would not survive the exposure to the freezing effects of that realm.
Riding was not an option either, for there was no time to lose. I could only think of one fashion in which he might have moved that far away that quickly, and that was that he had used the multiple doorways in the grasslands.
I opened the doorway and stepped through and out into the heavy dry heat; this time I neither staggered nor even gave it much of a thought for his presence was strongly noticeable here – yes. He had stood here in this very circle a short while ago. I tracked the doorway options and could not come up with a solution to the problem which one of all of these he would have chosen. Frustrated, I stopped scanning them all. There were too many.
I glanced around and noted to my dismay that the villagers and the old man were beginning to assemble. That was the very last thing I needed right now and I bit my lip and turned my attention back to the doorways. Allowed myself to let what was Lucian begin to rise up inside of me, more and more so until the view on the landscape ahead changed, became colourless and hard, immaterial and negative both, and I allowed the process to continue until I was quite disgusted with that weak body once more, with the blue clothing and the long, powerless spindly quality of my limbs. I scanned the doorways again and wondered where I might like to travel and there was one, a very old one, that felt just right. I fought back to my own awareness then, and studied the doorway.
Behind me, chanting and strange sounding instruments struck up a mewling chorus that sent a shiver through me. Well yes. They had their greeting ceremonies, only I was not here to be greeted. I was only passing through.
The doorway I had picked out was the correct one. It was ancient and yet it had a fresh imprint across it that had been tracked not just once, but twice.
I opened it and stepped through, rapidly the sounds behind me snapping into a dense silence and the hot dry heaviness giving way to coolness and moisture all around.
There was grass, deeply softening beneath my feet.
There was misty wet all around, and a general feeling of green and grey.
I stood in a very old place that had been in ruins for a very long time. I searched for Lucian and found him immediately, close by and made my way in his direction when …
I recognised the place.
Oh but by the sweet creator!
It was Lucian’s father’s castle.
The recognition and realisation caused me very nearly to go into my knees. It truly was as though a huge weight had fallen onto my back from behind and knocked the breath from my lungs in an instant.
What on all the planes of existence possessed him to come here, of all places?
It took me a moment to recover my equilibrium, and then I only recovered mine, not that of the parts of me that were him and who were in uproar inside of me.
I shut them down and sealed them in deeply and took a deep breath. Me alone, with my own eyes, and without overlaying memories and recognitions, looked at Tremain Castle for the very first time.
Slowly, I made my way across the fallen walls that truly appeared as though they were melting into the grass, disappearing lower and lower still even as I looked at them.
There were no sections left standing that were higher than me, and they were spread around in a wide area.
I could see where the outer wall would have been; here and there, a part of a support tower was still intact and still, after all these years, supporting segments of wall as far as it could hold them together.
All was extraordinarily silent in the misty moisture that sat in the air as though a very fine rain had been frozen in time and my walking through it released individual drops upon my face and neck.
Very cautiously, I sought for him.
He was already aware of my presence and it was with huge relief I noted that he was quiet within and only lightly shielded now.
I was worried about you.
May I be here?
(Silent, silent acknowledgement)
May I join you?
(Acknowledgement, resignation, silence)
I walked through the grass into which my feet sank nearly up to the ankles, a dense carpet grass that made it seem you walked in dream rather than in hard. I headed straight for a wide stretch where there was no wall left at all, and beyond it, vaguely outlined and disappearing into mistiness, lay a large grassy area with just a small bush, here and there.
I could feel him standing long before his dark shape revealed itself to me in the mist.
I joined him on the edge of a steeply sloping incline.
He stood very still and very contained, did not turn his head towards me or acknowledged my presence at all. His eyes lay on the land below, reaching and stretching to an undiscovered horizon, grey green, fertile, beckoning.
Forest below us to the left, sweeping countryside below and ahead, uncultivated, fallow and abandoned, receding to grey as though it was dissolving into nothing.
This was the land he was supposed to have inherited.
This was the land his father had trained him to take care of since he could crawl.
I could not begin to try and comprehend what he must be feeling, standing here, and there was nothing I could say to him to make it any better, or to turn back the time, or to make up for any of it, and finally, I just stood next to him in silence, in a vigil at the graveside of not just his own life, but the bloodlines of his family reaching back into the misty past.
You should cry, Lucian.
You should stand here and you should weep for all those years you have spent in exile whilst your lands returned to nature and your castle slowly sank into the grass, deeper and deeper with each passing sunrise.
You should lie on your knees and scream to the fates for an answer to why this happened to you, an answer as to who did this to you, and how it came to pass.
You should call your beautiful lightning from the skies and bring destruction to all and everyone.
But he did not scream, or rage, or weep.
So I stood by his side and wept for him instead.
I wept for him until the mists began to rise and a wind sprang up that had a brighter quality, and with it, the skies began to clear imperceptible at first, then noticeably as the brightness increased and the first bands of royal blue became visible, shadows appeared around our feet and in the valley, and finally with a brilliant burst that re-painted the view to glorious vibrancy, the sun broke from behind the clouds for an instance.
He turned to me and looked on me most kindly.
I did not know when I came here.
Perhaps you had to come here.
He sighed deeply and reached out, brushed a strand of hair away from my face, then ran the back of his hand over my cheek, catching moisture from my tears.
It was the hand that had born the ruby ring when first we met.
He half retrieved it and looked down upon it, then touched the tears with the fingertips of the other.
No, don’t cry any more. It doesn’t serve. What is done, is done. The only point for leverage we have and ever had, is in the present.
He paused and after a moment’s thought, placed his arm around my shoulders, turning us both so that we once again facing from the hilltop forward towards the valley.
There is land. Trees, shrubs, bushes. There are creatures there – can you feel them? Of course you can, you feel them far more keenly than I ever could. There is just land. How can you own it? Desire to own it? Have the illusion you could own such a thing as this? Why, you might as well take one of these clouds and desire to write your name upon it and then go to war trying to stop another from doing the same.
There was a time, a time long ago, when I was told that one day, all this would be mine.
I believed it then and I will tell you with honesty that the thought frightened me to death.
What do you do if every one of a hundred thousand trees is yours?
Do you go from one to the other and seek their forgiveness before you cut them down for firewood?
Do you stand in mid winter, trying blankets about the smaller ones so the frost might spare them?
And then, that was the least of it. Way back then, there used to large herds of deer in that forest, for my father’s hunting sport. All of those were to be mine, too, and I would have to hold court and pass judgement on the poachers and the village men, all of whom were mine as well, and my sheriff who was mine would tell the guards who were mine to take them and whip them with my whips and cut their hands off with my axe, spilling their my blood onto their my dungeon floors whilst my dogs are slavering and my soldiers and my servants stand and gape my gape.
By all the fires of hell! But what could be more frightening?
I cannot stand here with you and tell you that I am glad it is all gone, that would not be the whole truth.
But I am glad it is no longer all mine. It was always far too much for me.
I stood and tracked along with his tranquil thoughts of resignation, his arm heavy and his hand cupping my shoulder warm, laid into the sweep of his side and was simply glad that we were both alive and that he was there and holding me and telling me of his thoughts and that he had not entirely rejected and forsaken me.
I will not reject you nor forsake you.
But will you forgive me? Can you forgive me?
He took a deep breath and tightened his hold on my arm slightly.
I don’t understand what that means. I never have. Often times though I have had the suspicion that the sanctimonious like to use that term to remind you of your sins for eternity and with their miserable grins that should pass for kindly smiles rub salt upon salt into your wounds.
(Acknowledgement) Yet I am afraid that you hold me not as dearly as you used to and that you are angry with me.
Angry? Perhaps. Yes. Yes, I am angry. Angry at Solland for taking advantage of your youth and inexperience. Angry at you for your youth and inexperience and lack of control. Angry at me for not having been there when you called for my assistance with all your heart. Angry at circumstances always being beyond my control. And finally, angry that I perfectly understand Solland, and you, and even me and yet it makes no difference at all.
(Sadness, guilt. Shame. So ashamed)
Hush now. What’s done, is done. You did not betray me lightly and you did not do so willingly. I cannot judge you. I am the last – man in all the kingdoms to judge you.
He turned me towards him and put his other hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t deserve his kindness and generosity. I was a disgrace. As my father had said, I was a whore, and I would never, never trust myself again, so how could he?
I felt a pull on my chin and knew he was trying to raise my head. I resisted, shook my head and could feel tears welling up again.
Disgrace or no disgrace. Whore or no whore. Trust or no trust, deserving my kindness indeed. Look at me, my lady.
I shuddered at that form of address. I did not deserve to be anyone’s lady.
Look at me, Lady Isca.
Finally, I glanced up at him as a child would do that has been caught stealing fruit. I was extremely aware of the miserableness of my behaviour but was powerless to stop it and could have beaten my own head with a heavy branch for it.
He caught me in his eyes, grey green fleetingly reflecting the fast rushing clouds above and the green land around us. He caught me in his eyes and I was ever helpless before them, before him, no, before my own feelings for him.
How could you ever doubt my love for you? How could you ever think for a single heartbeat that I would prefer Conna’s touch to yours, no matter how experienced, no matter what my treacherous body might decree? I broke under the torture of temptation, far easier than I had ever wished to have to know about myself. I did break and I am ashamed that I did. You deserve better than me.
(Short, bitter amusement) I think not, my lady. Indeed, I think not. I have broken under torture so much that I am and always have been entirely in pieces. It pains me to admit it, and it is possible that I have tried to forget this simple fact, or push it aside. I am all broken, my lady. To obedience, to the harness, to the saddle, to the sword, to the ancient languages, and yes, even to you. Especially to you. So here you stand before me and you tell me I deserve better than you. It could be said, and if one was to make a count of all the breakings, and should use this as a measure for deserving, that I do not deserve you.
I tried to hold his argument in my mind and could not. I shook my head, not to negate what he had said, but to clear my thoughts enough to understand. Whatever it was that he had said, I found it hard to find that non-deservability inside myself again and that was somewhat disconcerting.
I backed up and said, out aloud, “But the shame of it. How do I handle the shame?”
He let go of my shoulders then and sighed, turning back to face into the valley and narrowing his eyes just slightly against the brightness of the late afternoon sun.
I don’t know how it would be handled. I live with mine.
I find it hard, Lucian. Very hard.
He turned a smile on me that was very nearly loving and kind.
It gets better with practice, and both of us were intensely aware of the simple fact that he was lying to himself and to me to offer a hope that somewhere along the line of his too long processions of sunrises and sunsets had began to waver, and falter, and then fade until there was not a trace of it left.
It did not get easier. It got worse as one shame piled upon the next, drawing more to themselves as though bees were building a hive around their queen, more and more joining the buzzing throng until the branch would break under their weight.
He reached across to me and pushed the blue cloak behind my shoulder, and very hesitantly, very cautiously began to prescribe a small circle on my arm. For a moment, looking down on his fingertips, I was confused in body and in mind and then it came to me that he was attempting to recreate one of Conna’s experienced, light, confident manipulations upon my body.
I stepped into him and wrapped my arms about his neck, buried my face in his chest.
He hesitated briefly and then put his arms about me in return, holding me tightly, laid his cheek into my hair.
I would please you, learn to please you, my lady.
(Intense sadness) You please me.
(Surprise, suspicion) Then why are you sad?
That you would think so little of yourself or my love for you that you would still not understand, not even try to understand, that nothing at all now or ever, nothing that Conna could ever say or do, could ever for a single moment begin to be as wonderful to me as you have always been. You cannot begin to know how it saddens me, despairs me, to have you doubt this because I was foolish and weak and yes, I betrayed both of us. I did. I betrayed us with my weakness.
(Silent smile) You are nothing but a woman.
I was not prepared for the storm of furiously conflicting emotions that simple statement, half a joke and half an acknowledgement of my current predicament, caused me to experience in an instant.
No. I am more. I cannot just be – that!
I bested the Serein. I rode across the kingdoms. I fought and killed dozens of soldiers. I judged and executed half a tribe. I survived Trant’s dungeons and led Conna’s men to freedom. I saved us both, more than once, at that. Women couldn’t do such a thing. They are weak, worthless, spineless, whining creatures that manipulate with guilt, that beg to be spared, that creep around in shadow and toil endlessly without reward, that tear themselves apart from heart to soul to deliver upon themselves the endless burdens of squalling children, that whimper under the raised whip and spread their legs at their master’s commands, be they willing or otherwise; and even if they refuse, they get taken anyway and there isn’t a thing they can do about it other than cry about it afterwards.
You cannot, cannot ask me to accept that. I’d rather carry a mountain of shame, a whole world of shame, than to be condemned to that. Call me a witch, call me a whore, call me anything at all, just don’t call me that!
Lucian listened to my flood of negation with deep fascination and great interest but without compassion and a detachment that was both steadying and disconcerting. Instead of replying directly, he send me a small vibration of blue and green, a reasonable approximation of the original jade that had taught me the ways of the pattern world and it cooled me and calmed me, but took not even the edge of my absolute determination to not be that, to not ever become that, not ever, at no cost at all.
He noted this and said out aloud, “You manipulate with guilt. You beg to be spared. You toil endlessly on my behalf for no reward. You have definitely whimpered under my whip, and spread your legs to Conna but for the asking, willing or otherwise. And now, you carry a child within you. You tell me, what does that make you?”
I shake my head and try to fight clear of his encircling arms, but he won’t let me go.
“What does that make you?”
“A coward and a fool,” I say, stubbornly, for I will not, can not accept the alternative which is so far worse, so far worse by far.
Ah but my choice grows more frivolous and unfortunate by the moment! I would worship a coward and a fool?
I keep shaking my head. No, Lucian. No more word games. I will not listen to you anymore. I know what I am, what I want to be and you cannot make me into that.
"I cannot make you into anything that you already are! In all the hells, woman, what is wrong with you? I don’t understand where this is coming from. You were happy enough to be my lady, lay with me and call me master not too long ago. On the will of the Creator, you are taking this far too far. You made a mistake. You are ashamed of yourself. Well let it be now. You leave yourself too little room, for what should happen if you were ever forced into a true betrayal that could not be undone by words of kindness and acceptance? Isca, you are a woman. What else could you be?"
Anything else, anything else, anything else at all, anything, anything and not …
Two soldiers are holding me. Thoran of Thelein is livid at their refusal to rape me. He is chewing his bloodless lips, his cheeks are high red in a pale and sweating face. His remaining hand is clinched so tightly, he must surely be near breaking his own bones.
He pushes his face right into mine.
“You bitch,” he says. “You fucking bitch. Don’t think I’ll let you get away with this. Your – master” and he spits the word at me and I flinch as his spittle hits me in and around my left eye, “will get to learn that I can take anything of his, anything at all, and I will take you myself if these cowards are afraid. Lord of Darkness, indeed. I’ll show you the Lord of Darkness.” As he speaks, his single hand struggles to undo the belt clasp. It is shaking but he manages it and pushes his trousers from his hips in contortions. I am absolutely frozen although my mind is racing so I think it must fly out through my ears and my eyes and nose.
When he orders the soldiers to spread me wide for him and hold me tight, the frozen leaves me and I begin to struggle insanely, drawing on my Lucian memories to help me fight and give me extra strength. It takes four of them eventually to hold me down and I writhe and scream inside my head with an insanity so compounded into blinding lightning strikes of absolute agony that is so far beyond the physical as he enters me with intent to punish, I can hardly believe such a state of horror could exist at all. Through all of it, I hear his voice, all around me and inside me, “You fucking bitch, you whore, who’s your master now, you filthy bitch, I’m gonna teach you, you godless witch, you dirty whore, you …”
Lucian’s voice, commanding and stern, echoes around my head and drives away the other voice, the other words, drives them out as you would chase intruders from your land with sword drawn.
There is a blank silence in my mind and I can feel him holding me and I can feel that he is shaking, a deep fast tremble that is in every part of his body at the same time. High shielded yet maintaining the blankness of my thoughts, he brings it under control, in waves of effort until it is entirely extinguished and all is calm.
All is calm.
Beyond his chest and shoulder lies the horizon and the sun is shining brightly. A fresh breeze tingles in my face, pushing more forcefully every once in a while. Below my feet, the grass is soft and I am being held securely, tightly, silently.
Lucian breathes calm and regularly, perhaps a little more deeply and consciously than he normally does, or perhaps, normally I am just not aware of how he breathes, unless he gives a sigh or a snort or a repressed intake of breath he wished he had not taken. I admire his control. I have always admired his control that holds so supremely unless there are special circumstances, such as women and children, arise before him like ghosts and remind him that control is an illusion, as is anything else, or so it seems.
Women and children.
Here he stands now, breathing deeply, and he is holding both for I am two, both a woman and a child, and this child might not be Conna’s child, it might be placed inside me by Thoran Of Thelein. The thought causes me to feel something again, a slow building dark hot sensation that spreads up from my stomach to my throat in time with Lucian’s breathing.
The sensation fades away as coolness and calm encompass me more profoundly, more noticeably than before and I begin to breathe more deeply too, matching the rise and fall of his chest, and although this rhythm is alien for me and too slow, it is as soothing as the ocean tides itself, green and blue and deeper than can be imagined.
Lucian, I need to know whose child I am carrying.
The soothing sweeps higher around me, comforting, supporting my body to be light and so at ease. Buoyed by this tide, I drop myself as lightly as a swimmer dives into the patterns of myself and seek that what is alien to me, that what does not belong and I cannot find it, cannot experience it until I change my mind and seek for the newest part of me instead. When I filter it thus, that which is growing stands out brightly, multicoloured spinning of bright orange, and yellow and green, deepest purple flashing, patterns dense and interlaced, and it is beautiful to behold.
I am awed by it, by its nature and its sheer complexity, its presence and its being of uniqueness, here, at that level of understanding, a wonder more intense than the most beautiful of faceted gems in the brightest of illuminations.
I slowly begin to synchronise into its ways and there is a familiarity about it, a well rememberedness and a comfort and a pain both as I recognise shards of my own self within it, broken and rebuild yet of me without a doubt. I find them so interlaced and interwoven with itself and the other energies that it is, indeed, hard to say that these were mine and yet they were, without a doubt.
There are other patterns, too, and I feel a fear and resistance to track them too closely. I feel myself turning away when behind me, a gently whispered swell of waves lifts me and moves me forward and I am no longer afraid. I focus on the patterns and they too, have a deep familiarity, such a resonance, such a clear resonance and I know them so well and I recognise consciously and with absolute delight that these patterns can only belong to one man –
They are of Lucian.
Then the world falls around my ears and everything falls out of focus and I spin into my body, flailing, just in time to see Lucian winking right out of existence and I fall forward, face first, into the soft wet grass where he had stood just a heartbeat earlier, falling and not even thinking to bring up my hands or arms and I fall flat down, covering the indentations of his footprints with my body.