I stand in the doorframe and cannot move.
I don’t want to go inside.
I don’t want to know.
I don’t want to remember.
I don’t have what it takes.
I am not one of a hundred thousand who can take this kind of pain.
I thought I was and I was wrong.
I thought I was strong and I was wrong.
I thought I could trust myself, my body, my mind and I was wrong about that, too.
I would start to cry but I am too horrified, too ashamed, too destroyed by this realisation.
At the very outside edges of my awareness, I can feel that other man.
That other man. My husband. The Dark Lord. Malme's Butcher. My lover.
How many of me had he destroyed in this way?
How many more than that one chained to the wall?
I cannot stand to have to look at either of them, I cannot stand to be there for one more instant and I translocate myself randomly and as hard as I can, as far away as I can go, reaching out and stretching myself head first into anywhere but there.
I materialise at a very great height and panic when I start the tumbling descent to desert sand; only as I thrash my arms and kick my legs, I slow and I recognise that I am most likely no longer in the hard but in Serein.
Sighing, I drift towards the sand below me, pale grey blue and fading to darker violet in the shadows of an enormous moon up above that covers a quarter of the night sky.
I let myself be embraced by the surface, giving, shifting below the outlines of my body and lie still.
All is slow and quiet and the sand is comfortable, half cool and half warm, grainy beneath my cheek as I turn my head away from the too bright giant moon above.
Automatically, I search for others.
There is no-one I can perceive.
I am quite alone here and that is a terrible relief and a burden both.
Carefully, I keep my eyes on that straight horizon that always tells you are not in the real world anymore, where there is a gentle curve and a falling away towards the edges that will conclude eventually, given enough passing of time and of movement through space; here, all is imbued with eternity, and that is far too much for anyone at all, and not to mention such a one as me who really is all in pieces and cannot contain it all, if ever she could.
I don’t want to look at my body.
You never know what horrors this place throws at you, and I do remember what happened on my last visit here, well, not quite here, but I remember all of it, every second of it, and I remember –
I don’t want to think about that man, nor any other.
I don’t want to think of children, mine, Serein, nor any other.
As I think these thoughts, steam begins to rise from my chest. I watch it with some fear – I don’t trust this realm nor my emotional responses here. They may show you the truth, whatever that might be, but who wants to know the truth, anyway?
Leave my illusions alone.
Without them, what would I have left?
The mist rises and forms into a shape that reminds me of my so-called husband or husband-to-be. A part detaches and forms into what might be a pregnant woman, and another into smaller shapes that would be children.
I close my eyes and shake my head in exasperation, grating fine sand into my hair, my scalp.
So the things I decide I don’t want to think of are made real into these shapes now, just to make it harder still to keep them all away from me? Who designed this excruciating torture chamber they call Serein and what a madman am I to be even going here? Well. Not even a madman. A madwoman, for the sweet creator’s sake. Worse by far, and so much less romantic, don’t you think.
Madmen are blessed by the spirits, don’t you know, but mad women, well they’re no better than the beasts in the fields and a great deal more annoying.
Swiftly, a range of shapes escapes from my neck, head and chest. I don’t even look at them and still I am perfectly well aware that they are probably representing him and me in various states of derangement over the time we have known each other.
It strikes me that this might actually not be altogether bad.
Perhaps this was a chance to get rid of these things once and for all, get rid of them from out of yourself and not have to ever deal with them again?
Perhaps I could shed something of all these ever-growing burdens that I have accumulated upon myself like he shed the snake skin here?
Ah, but that would be a blessing indeed.
I deliberately think of bad things now.
I think of Thoran of Thelein.
There is a tearing sensation between my legs and in the lowest part of my stomach and I open my eyes a little way and raise my head enough so I can catch a quick sneak glimpse at what is happening.
A shape, swirling dark, is trying to detach but it is stuck somehow and a nasty, hot sensation covers my female parts as I try to push myself away from it and automatically swat at it with my hands.
It moves with me and my hands pass right through it.
It is horrible and I find myself gritting my teeth and locking my jaw muscles because I don’t want to start crying again. I force myself to breathe, to not fight the feel of it, to just be quiet and accept what there is, just for now.
I have much magic, I tell myself. I have so much magic. And in this place, anyone would. It is pure magic, pure will and all can be achieved here, so just keep calm, be quiet.
With my breath, in and out, the swirling darkness goes in and out too. It pulses. It fucks me. I can feel it again, and once more I nearly lose myself in panic before I can steady myself by holding my breath.
I don’t want to breathe.
This is the mill pond again, the pool at the Tower in the North Mountains, it is that not wanting to breathe again, and this time, the fucking will start as soon as I breathe, and the deeper I breathe, the deeper he will penetrate into my insides, into my stomach, into my head.
I hold on as long as I can and when I must breathe again I make it tiny shallow breaths.
Oh creator, please help me someone. Please help me. I don’t know what to do, how to stop this.
He is still inside me.
I lay back into the sand and cry then, my hands no good at all in protecting me, they just wave helplessly in the air and they don’t leave a trace of that power dust residue that I need to see just now so much more than ever.
The fucking continues as I cry, in time with my sobs.
Perhaps I should just get used to it.
It isn’t so bad, after all.
It doesn’t hurt like it did at the time. It is just nasty, unpleasant, but perhaps I can just tune it out or return the shadow to where it came from, unthink the thought, make it go away, or return to the hard and it will be not there at all.
Feeling sick and grey, I roll over on my stomach and bring my legs under me so I can get up. I keep my eyes high, on the moon now, and try not to feel anything at all. I start at my eyes and make everything below recede into nothing; it is such a struggle, fists clenched I fight for it and slowly, so slowly, a numbness descends and sinks slowly across me until I just am again, staring up at the moon and there is no more feeling.
It takes me a while to gather enough courage to look down at myself.
It is an enormous relief to see that I seem to be wearing a long white gown that trails on the floor and there is no trace of the shadow. I hardly dare breathe a sigh of relief but the sensation isn’t there, yet I remain very cautious and suck in a little air only when absolutely necessary.
Then I see the others.
There are many – more than I thought there would be.
They are see-through, made of water, flowing, yet I recognise each one well enough. There are many of me and many of him and I shake my head and turn my back on them all because I don’t want to see what they are doing with each other.
I don’t want to see them fucking, and I don’t want to see them fighting.
Ah but you know, they’re not really fighting.
It is always him hurting her. You know? He is always hurting her somehow.
I think that and more mists arise from me; some detach and form into more shapes and others stay attached to me in swirls and trails. Right before me, I see a me on the ground, so afraid, so small before him as he bends forward to shout at her. I try to turn away but now I am surrounded by these water figures and there is nowhere but up left to get away from it all.
I raise my arms that I can no longer feel and let myself be drawn up towards the enormous moon that looks so close that I think I might be able to touch it if only I reach up high enough and find myself floating immediately, high and higher still, above that desert plane where those water figures still fight and writhe amongst themselves.
This is driving me insane.
This is serving no purpose.
I cannot resolve this from myself.
I don’t want to even look at it.
Oh dear creator, I need help.
Someone please help me.
I don’t know what to do.
I float and turn slowly in my painless misery above the desert night and I wait for something to happen, someone to come, someone to answer my request for help.
But there is nothing and there is no-one.
I half expected to create a vision of comfort, perhaps old Marani who was the closest to understanding me and yet a thousand million length lay between me and her. Perhaps Conna who understood my body well enough, that was sure, if nothing else. He had also understood my little girl emotions and my needs. Perhaps Chay or even better, my imaginary friend Ty who would not challenge me with his physicality and demands. Perhaps a vision of that bird part of myself that would go into the dangerous places when I was too scared to make an entrance in my own totality. Perhaps my little lost glacier bird itself might come to me and give me strength and courage here.
I thought of Dareon.
I had not thought of Dareon for a long time and it occurred to me that I felt so guilty about that. What gratitude had he received for saving my miserable hide? What recompense but that I went ahead and killed his father, mother, brothers and sisters, and all his kind save for a few straggly children who would never be what they were meant to have become?
I thought of my brother and it was so bitter, so bitter. He was just a one and not a multitude and yet.
He had loved me and I had betrayed him so.
I was good at talking about justice and I betrayed everyone.
Eventually, I could no longer keep it at bay and then I had to think of him again.
He too, loved me and I had betrayed him, too.
In thought, in word and in deed.
Finally, I thought about her.
And when I did, I was no longer alone.
Spinning slowly in perfect synchrony, a mirror copy of me became, within easy reach of an outstretched arm and a reaching hand. She, too, was dressed in white, chastely right up to her neck, her hair swept up as it had been in Delessa’s parlour, the red jewel sparking fire at her throat and she looked straight at me.
What do you want me to do?
Can you help me?
She smiles. Of course I can. I am the greatest worker of magic that ever moved between the realms.
I sigh with relief. Help me, then. I hesitate and add a small, Please, that makes me feel shamed and dirty.
We spin slowly and I become aware that I am not sure anymore which is the surface – the desert there or the moon here. Nothing happens.
What are you waiting for? Must I do something? Please, can we end this? Can you end this for me?
Of course I can, she says, and yet, nothing happens at all.
I feel like crying. Please, I say beseechingly. Please teach me whatever lesson I am supposed to learn here. Please tell me what to do, what I must think, say, do, become, make happen, just please tell me.
She looks at me without concern, without pity and entirely without compassion.
What do you think needs to happen? she asks and raises an eyebrow.
I struggle with my dismay and impatience and hurt and consider her question as best as I can whilst we continue to spin and the world here continues to make no sense to me at all.
When I first arrived, things came from me and took on shapes that acted out things I did not want to look at. The black shape came and that I didn’t want to experience. I try to bow my head in submission but instead manufacture a peculiar weaving motion with my neck.
I must look at these things?
Looking is a start, my dear, she says and sounds completely like Lucian. She looks like him too in the strangest way – not her face, her shape, obviously, but the way she holds her head and how she inflects the words. I wish she would be her and not him.
As I wish this, she begins to change before my eyes, growing smaller and thinner and she becomes a me that existed before he and I became one mind. She is wearing that shift he forced us into and her hair sticks out. Her eyes are huge and terrified. You are of no help to me here, I inform her, and she shrinks more into herself in rejection, a truly pitiful sight that makes me tense up with an instant rush of anger at her pathetic being.
Oh but I am weary. I cannot even try and figure out if it is his anger or mine. I don’t know who I am anymore. Go back, I say to her. Go back and show me who she was before any of this happened. I need her now, I need her strength and resolution. Her focussed desires and her utter disregard for anything at all. Her rage and her outrage, I need Isca as she was before she was destroyed at Tower Keep.
Obediently, the companion shape before me changes once more and I look into a pair of young brown eyes that challenge me, distrust me, mock me, dare me to better her.
Who are you? she asks incredulously.
I sigh with care and say, I am a woman who needs your help, very badly, this day.
She looks around herself and catches a breath of surprise and wonderment.
Is this a dream? she asks.
I see no point in going into details and so I answer, Yes, it is my dream. My nightmare. Will you help me escape from it?
She is clearly puzzled by that notion.
Why me? I am nothing/nobody. Have you called the right person? Have you made a mistake?
I shake my head and I begin to feel a beginning of feeling beginning to return to my body. That frightens me. There is only a short amount of time. We must hurry.
It’s no mistake, believe me, Isca, I say to her and watch her eyes widen because I know her name. She must think me to be a great lady or perhaps a sorceress. I make an effort to concentrate, to reach her.
I need your hand in mine, to look at some things I cannot look at by myself. I have been told that you are very brave and not afraid of anything. That is why I have asked for you to be here with me. Will you help me?
She is stunned that I know so much about her but she is also very, very pleased.
Yes, she says confidently, positively. Yes, of course I will help you, lady. You can rely on me.
I feel like crying again and quickly nod to dispel the sensation.
Thank you, I say and hold out my hand to her. She hesitates and then takes it in hers. Her hand is smaller than mine, quite dirty, the nails broken from too much climbing of trees and the work in the fields.
Take me to the desert below, I say to her. There are ghosts there I must look at and I am afraid.
Will they hurt you/us?
I don’t think so. I just don’t want to know what they have to tell me.
Oh! she exclaims, I want to know everything about everything!
I begin to start our descent because I am fairly sure I can feel my shoulders again and the breathing is becoming an issue once more.
That is why you are here with me, I say, and together we stop spinning and swoop down towards the plain, her hand firmly in mine, and her excitement and pride at having been chosen to aid me in this task, as well as the excitement of discovery, strongly pulsing across to me.
It seems to hasten the thawing process I am undergoing for I can begin to know my ribs rising and falling with that awful breath. I experience a moment of panic which does not go unnoticed by my young companion.
We land a way outside of the circle of ghosts.
I look at her not at them and gain the impression thus shielded, second hand.
She is stunned and then she becomes very angry.
What is this awful man doing to that poor girl? she demands to know of me.
I turn to look at the scene she is referring to.
It is Lucian, raping me in the golden room at the North Mountain Tower. He is not just raping me, he is tearing me apart, breaking me, fucking with intent to kill.
Before I can say or do anything, my companion has broken free and is striding towards the pair of them, then running. She throws herself straight at the glass-like Lucian ghost, wrapping her legs about his back and her hands around his throat, and he stops and turns to look at her. Calmly, he rises and my companion slides helplessly of his water smooth back, landing on her bottom in the sand. Still, and entirely unaware of how ridiculous this looks, she shakes her fist at him and shouts, You bastard! What do you think you are doing?
The Lucian ghost stands quietly and does not respond. I walk across to that scene and kneel next to the broken girl who is striving to repair herself. I reach to touch her but she does not notice me, she is focussed on her own time of mind and when she has re-build herself, she gets up, entirely unseeing of me or my companion, and moves in front of the Lucian ghost. A short while later, they begin to enact the scene again.
My young companion is distraught, upset, confused, angry.
What is this? she asks me, what are they doing?
I shake my head which feels as though it weighs as much as a mountain. They are doing what they must, I tell her. It doesn’t matter. I don’t think we are here to interfere, just to admit it happened and to look.
So we hold hands again and we move from scene to scene, and always, my companion is absolutely outraged at what is happening and eventually, she stops us dead and just before the numbness is receding below my navel and I can feel the pulse again and even see the shadow starting to re-assemble, she says, I would never let myself be treated like this. Never. I would kill that man, I would fight him to the very end.
I double over for now I can no longer breathe in safety and when the black cloud has come back completely I start to cry and wail and fall to the sand, to writhe there and make patterns with my limbs flailing ineffectually.