Part 97: The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 5The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 5
I wrinkled my nose at the acrid smell of burnt metal and ozone. The Mage's training room was perhaps half-full, with apprentices and magelings fumbling at their incantations. They tossed flickering missles at a charred, metal-lined wall, and those that didn't fizzle out splashed against the target with a sad, broken sputter. No one seemed to know what they were doing... it was like stepping into a gymnasium full of fat men attempting calisthenics.
One young lady, however, was neat and primly dressed. Her hair was tied back and the sharpness in her eyes and the purse of her painted lips made it clear she one of the few who knew what she was doing. She carried a sheaf of papers and unwound scrolls, and occasionally paused to look through them and read portions of what was written aloud, practicing elaborate hand-motions as she did so. She looked up to me. "Good day, sir. You were the one at the lecture, were you not?"
"Uh, yes. What is this place?"
"This is where aspiring mages can come to train and study. Many wizards took their took their first steps in the Art as fledgling sorcerers, here."
I looked around, "Where's the trainer?"
"I do not know where Lady Thorncombe has gone. I would suggest you try the Sensoriums... she spends much of her time there..." She lowered her voice, frowning: "Perhaps too much."
Hmmm Thorncombe... I believe Salabesh mentioned her once, in not-too-kind terms.
The Sensoriums were paved in a graceful spiral of gray stone, an elegant, if excessively neutral color for a chamber in the Civic Festall. The scent of the air was neither warm nor cool, neither crisp nor muggy. Everything was unusually in-between. That is not to say it was neutral, since even the concept of balance and imbalance wasn't present here. The comparatively stark decor seemed to imply an empty space, a potential where an experience will someday be born.
"The true art of the Sensoriums is not held in the walls itself," Grace mused as if in response to the surprised wrinkle of my brow, "Rather, the appeal is in the sensory stones they archive here. The chambers are meant to be empty, so that there are fewer distractions to avert the mind."
I had seen sensory stones before, in the chambers beneath Grace's brothel. They were supposed to house memories of intense, rare sensations so that others might bask in the experiences of another. They were songs and poems made flesh, bound in crystal and banded in silver. But between working at the forge, running errands, and attempting to garner any hint of a rumor about Ravel, I hadn't had time to look into the sensoriums.
It was hard to find anything more than a whisper of the night hag, since she had been mazed so long ago that whatever memories were left had faded into legend, bent and re-forged a hundred times over so that the barest trace of its original form couldn't be inferred.
Oh well, might as well sample the goods.
I wandered from chamber to chamber, each one with a stand holding a single stone with a short description of a sensation etched along its base. In this instance, it was 'Frightened Exhilaration,' scribed in a graceful flourish. I cupped my hands over the metal bands enrobing the glassy surface, like the strings of a woman's bodice bound against naked flesh. The moment my fingers touched the glassy surface, however, I could feel the warm pulse of the memory beneath, writhing and eager for a mind to latch onto.
It didn't take much urging to pull the experience into myself. Immediately it bubbled at the invitation, leapt toward the surface as if to press against my fingers. My heart leapt at the shock like a splash of cold water, and for that moment I forgot who and what I was...
I twist my head to look up at the large contraption strapped to my back... a set of four bat-like wings extend from out of it, each made of leather pulled taut over wicker frames. From the precipice I perch on, Dilgyar's Floating Fortress appears as but a tiny speck suspended in the blue-grey sky - miles away across nothing but empty air. "This is how everyone travels on the Plane of Air," they said, "it's easy." I smirk, step back a ways, and make a running leap off the cliff into the cool wind below, leaving my stomach behind. As the wings suddenly catch the air, an amazing rush shudders through my entire body as I soar out over the nothingness and towards the Elemental Prince's abode...
I blinked, peeling myself away from the last remnants of the sensation like kicking off the bedsheets upon awakening from a vivid dream. The sensation was still crisp in my mind, settling in and nestling comfortably in the vast empty spaces that used to hold forgotten memories. I felt as if I'd had a tasty hors d'oeuvre. It wasn't filling, but it was damn satisfying.
I tasted more sensations along the way, grazing as I searched for the Lady Thorncombe.
Hesitantly, I open my mouth and take a shallow breath... and water flows into my lungs like cool air. I smile and take a deep breath, gawking in all directions as I slowly sink to the bottom of the harbor, where hundreds of colorful fish weave through twisting tracts of brilliant coral. As my feet touch bottom, I peer up at the keel of my ship and laugh aloud with joy, a string of great bubbles shooting up towards the surface...
I feel my lip curl as the fair-haired young hero, armor gleaming like a polished silver mirror, once again enters my tavern. Hanging his velvet cloak on a wall-peg, he surveys my patrons with a pair of eyes like sea-gems and a smile that sets the serving wenches swooning. I set the mug I'd been cleaning down and harumph loudly, thinking of what it'd be like to turn him upside-down and shove him in a rain barrel...
I hold the point of a knife pressed to the man's throat, my hand clamped over his mouth and breath hot and heavy in his face. I begin to stab... slowly. The knife dimples his skin, and eventually breaks it. There is the hot rush of blood over my forearm, the sound of strangled respiration, a horrible sense of perverted glee... and it is over.
'Mind-Numbing Tedium.' The experience couldn't have been more than a few minutes long, but hours seemed to pass...
I sit in on a long, boring lecture in the driest, dustiest hall in the University of Chalm in Sigil. I look about the vast hall, hoping to catch someone's eye to pull a face at - but the other students are either asleep or staring listlessly into space. I drop my quill pen, pick it up, and drop again... just for something to do. I consider stabbing myself in the eye with it, just to see if my senses haven't been wholly numbed by the incredible boredom...
Venomous tears of pain brimming in my narrow yellow eyes, I gather the tattered remains of my small, scaled, red wings off the floor. I humbly back out of Groba's study, gritting my needle-like teeth beneath sealed lips.
Sure, I'm only a spinagon - least among devils - but that's no cause for a pit fiend to tear my wings off because he doesn't like the message I've brought him! What will my gelugon master do, now? He certainly can't say anything to Groba, and what use is a spinagon without its wings? I'll probably get cast into the Pit of Flame for 'incompetence!'
Vengeance out of the question, there's little to do but shake my clawed fist and hate, hate, HATE Groba with all the loathing my hard little black devil's heart can muster...
I stand debating with Amnas the Horribly Slow, Keeper of the Lion Key, as to whether or not my quest is important enough for him to relinquish the artifact into my care. The whole experience is an exercise in sheer torment... each and every one of his words is followed by a significant pause; each and every point he makes is reiterated time and again before he lets me speak. I present an argument... then wait, and wait, and wait while he makes his counterpoint. To which I shoot out a snappy counterpoint of my own... then must wait yet again for another of Amnas' drawling, meandering, seemingly endless counterpoints. It's everything I can do not to simply lop the fiend's tusked head off and snatch the key from the twitching corpse...
As I struggle with him, on the edge of a blazing-hot stream of molten lava, my weapon-hand is slowly, inexorably forced ever closer to the magma. I curse him for being stronger than me, by just a hair. Beads of sweat evaporate the instant they appear; the hair on the back of my hand blackens and smolders above the awesome heat. Finally, my howls of suffering echoing from the canyon walls around me, my hand and the axe it holds plunges into the lava and chars to ash in a few, agonizing seconds.
My eyes are closed; I can sense myself standing on the tips of my toes, pressed against her tightly. Soft, soft lips brush against mine, giving me the most gentle of kisses... my heart seems to flutter in my chest, and I feel as if I could fall backwards and simply float off into space...
Dancing and leaping about in rhythm with the wood elves' bouncing festival music, I and a dozen other dancers spin through the forest clearing like a whirling dervish, smiling and laughing like mad. As the cheering forest dwellers whoop, clap and dance alongside me, fairies careen through the air above our heads, leaving sparkling trails of colored light...
Shuddering, chattering, hoping beyond hope to be found, I curl into myself beneath a blanket of snow to save what little warmth I have left. Fighting to keep my eyes open - to remain awake - I become aware that I can no longer feel my arms... my legs... the ice against my face... and tired, so tired, I at last resign to the inevitable. I close my eyes, bidding sleep a bitter welcome as the sense of loss forces a single tear - doomed to crystallize before it even reaches my cheek - from my aching eyes.
The entire hall is in ruins and still in the process of being destroyed, as dozens of combatants hurl weapons, deadly, arcane magicks and themselves at one another in a desperate struggle to be the last one standing. Plumes of acrid green smoke rise from the pile of limp bodies I had dragged myself out of, having barely escaped the wrath of some fiendish spell. There it is - across the way, through the battling throng, through the bloodthirsty battle ahead of me, sitting untouched on a miraculously upright table - my pint of mead! And I'll get it back, if I have to kill every last one of the brawling tavern patrons to do it!
I couple with the succubus, a creature of such intense, otherworldly beauty that even her fiend's horns and thrashing tail give me no pause. She gasps under me... flesh dangerously sweet, and I desire her so completely that the whole of my existence seems focused towards this single goal. As my life explodes from me in a starry burst, I hear the delighted laughter of the succubus as she drains me dry, leaving my body but a soulless husk...
I awake from uneasy dreams to find myself transformed in my dank lair into a rather small, four-limbed, fleshy thing. I lie on my shell-less (as it were wholly unprotected) back and when I lift my tiny head - unadorned with its usual sensory antennae - a little I can see my pinkish belly, partly covered in soft, curling hairs quite unlike the black bristles I'm accustomed to seeing there. My two - only two! - legs now jut from the end of my torso, rather than up from around my abdomen. They look thick and ungainly in proportion to my body, and lie there limply, making no attempt to right me on their own - only by actively concentrating can I move the things. What has happened to me?
I left the chamber, swaying slightly from the barrage of sensations, coming away from them with my mind aching at the weight of it all. I sifted through the experiences, drinking what I could from them and enjoying the new mental fullness they left with me.
And that's when I bumped into her.
She was a comely, middle-aged woman, wandering about dreamily and absent-mindedly chewing on her thumbnail; her eyes seemed focused on nothing in particular. Elegant, yet disheveled finery dangled over her body as if it had been pulled on haphazardly, and her hair was slightly tussled.
I rubbed my eyes to shake the last vestiges of the mild grogginess of the sensations, "Greetings..."
"Hm?" She took her thumb from her mouth, smoothing back a strand of hair that had fallen in front of her eyes. She seemed otherwise apathetic.
"Are you, by chance, Lady Thorncombe?"
Her eyes widened momentarily, and then she looked away. "No. No, I am not, sir."
"Who are you, then, if I may ask?"
She smiled nervously. "No one of consequence, I assure you."
"Might I have your name?"
"Oh... I'm, eh... Adhana?" she fumbled.
"You're a terrible liar, you know."
Lady Thorncombe sneered. "And you're a horribly scarred ruin of a man, more a corpse given some sad semblance of life than anything else. Now go away."
I stepped in front of her before she could leave, and she looked up at me, both irritated and scandalized that I would stand in her way. "Wait... I had hoped to receive training in the magical arts."
"I shall dash your hopes to pieces, then. I no longer wish to teach magic... now go, leave me in peace."
"But why not?"
She waved a dismissive hand, "As if it were any concern of yours!"
"But it is... I seek to learn, and you can teach. I would know what I might do to convince you to train me."
Lady Thorncombe sighed loudly and resumed chewing on her thumbnail. "I doubt there's little you can offer me which I cannot find on my own. The sensory stones provide me with all things that my considerable wealth cannot buy."
"The sensory stones?"
"Mmm, yes... each stone has recorded within it one experience or another. When I first came to these halls, I spent little time with them. Only now do I realize what I had been missing..."
I certainly did understand that they were wonderful in their own way, but she seemed to be mired deeper than that, "What had you been missing?"
Thorncombe nodded, smiling. Her eyes took on a glassy sheen, and she held herself tightly. "One could spend lifetimes, here, among the stones... experience after wondrous experience... mere words cannot express their magnificence. I can only suggest you see for yourself, sir."
"I did, but... you sound... addicted."
She snarled, "Nonsense! I could stop anytime I wished! I merely choose to bask in their wonder. Why waste time teaching dawdling, ungrateful magelings, when I could remain here among these precious stones, living one hundred new lives each day?"
"I don't think the stones are there for that. Shouldn't you seek sensations of your own to share?"
"Hpmh! What you think matters little to me. Farewell."
Well, if Thorncombe couldn't help me, perhaps a rival could...
Salabesh was making his usual rounds, remniscing over the years of laying curses on enemies, mortal foes, and milkmaids who happened to use skim milk rather than whole.
"Good day to you, Salabesh."
"Ah, you now. I saw Jumble scurrying down the halls like a dog with its tail between its legs. Marvelous work, if I do say so myself."
"You wished to be the future mage-tutor of the Festhall, correct? What is that about again?"
"Hrmph," he tapped his staff and plucked an oyster from a proffered tray. "A noble title, that, and a great honor to be an official tutor in one of the Festhall's training chambers. Yes, one day I will take the position of mages' tutor, but the title's currently in the possession of the Lady Thorncombe. That woman wrote her dissertation on the alchemical uses of Thassalian stonewort, you know. Utterly useless as an educator, that Thorncombe." He slurped the oyster when he was finished with his bitter grumbling, and tossed the shell down onto the tray as he chewed.
"You could always bring up the fact that she's addicted to sensory stones. She doesn't seem to want to teach anymore..."
Salabesh's eyes widened, and he swallowed hard, "Is she, now?" His tight lips curled into a nasty smile. "And she no longer cares to teach? Excellent... I'll request to be made the new mage's tutor soon, then."
Salabesh's expression darkened. "I recently upset the head of the Festhall's board of mages, and I feel it would be best to wait for a time before making my request. Besides, I am certain that 'Lady' Thorncombe won't come skipping out of the sensorium anytime soon..." He chuckled evilly.
"You know chief, if I had to choose between a catatonic or a megalomaniac as a tutor, I think I'd go with the former."
I gave Morte a nod. I didn't want to learn from another Ignus, "Well that's why we use this as an opportunity."
Lady Thorncombe squinted at me when I came up to her again, as if trying to remember who I was. Suddenly, she frowned pointedly. "You! I hope you have not come here in an ill-fated attempt to drag me back to the training chamber... because I most certainly shall not go."
I was smooth as spun sugar when I spoke, "I just wondered if you knew that Salabesh was happy to hear of your decision, and is requesting to be made the new mages' tutor."
Her eyes widened and she placed a delicate hand on her breast in shock, "Salabesh?! That portly little oaf... the man couldn't magic his way out of a mildewed sack! Now what is this decision you speak of?"
"Why, your decision to remain in the sensoriums, and to no longer train less experienced mages."
"What?! But... I..." her eyes darted back and forth as she struggled for words.
"Yes, Lady Thorncombe?"
She glared at me and my slightly smug grin. "Asinine. Wholly asinine. Should you see Salabesh again, tell him not to bother. I shall return to the training chambers at once."
After lunch I returned to the Training Hall. The students had improved dramatically, and they practiced the incantations and gestures in tandem. Lady Thorncombe nodded in my direction when she spotted me, but I wasn't clear as to whether she recognized me or not. She'd straightened her clothes and hair, and looked quite the aging but attractive noblewoman... but still seemed far away and easily distracted. "Greetings... are you here to train in the magical arts?"
"Yes. Let's see what spells you offer."
Her repertoire was certainly much vaster than that of the standard vendors and street hawkers on sigil. I sifted through the list of spells, purchased the more powerful ones, and even took one or two that was beyond my ken... hopefully I would learn how to use those someday.
The private sensoriums were another thing entirely.
The Sensates here were a well-dressed if eclectic crowd, in splashes of bright colors that alone would've been elegant, but in a crowd it made my eyes ache. Many held glasses of wine and chatted quietly among themselves as if it were a cocktail party. A high, domed ceiling arched over us like a second sky, with lanterns dangling like fruit. Burnished, gold-plated edging surrounded the flower beds, which were thick with lush growth that gave off a sweet, honeyed scent. I almost wanted to pluck one of the blossoms for tasting.
"Try them, if you wish," Grace smiled as if she had read my mind, "Sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste... these are how a Sensate seeks the truth of the multiverse, and the Festhall spares no expense for its members."
"I'm not really a member... not officially, at least."
"You are Sensate enough for Splinter to allow you entrance. That is no small task," Grace smiled, and casually brushed her hand over the variety of flowers, barely allowing the petals to touch her fingertips. She sighed, content to experience the textures yet again.
"Hrmn. New experiences do sometimes help me remember," I murmured, plucking one flower. It was butter-yellow, with golden veins. I gave it a nibble, smearing the juices along my tongue.
It was pleasant at first, sweet and perfumed, a little like jasmine with a splash of rose wine. In moments however an awful bitterness filled my mouth, and I sucked my tongue and desperately swallowed to clear my tastebuds of the juices.
"An Endilay Blossom," Grace mused, "From Bytopia. It is an effective antiseptic, and is often used in poultices, if I recall. Not all experiences are pleasant, but we strive to learn from all of them."
Story of my life.
I browsed the selection of orbs, these of a higher quality than those available to the public. For one, they were a little bigger, and second the light inside them blazed and swirled like the fires of small suns. I walked past many, like a connoisseur carefully choosing what should be his first taste of wine that day. I read the names of each sensation, each simple and enigmatic, more vague than the ones in the public sensoriums, and all the more enticing for it.
Something hummed at the edge of my mind as I passed by one orb, and each time I went near it, something seemed to pluck at my being. There was a certain casualness about it, something elegant yet simple, overlooked by most of the other Sensates here.
The base of the aquatic blue stone had been sculpted so it appeared to have melted into the pedestal it rested upon. A stream of perfect azure tears dripped down the sides, framing the inscription beneath the pedestal: "Longing."
I placed my hands upon the stone, and its surface rippled beneath my touch. The sensation slid into my hands slowly in a rekindled languor, and a chill washed over my arms, as if I had plunged then into a mountain stream.
Letting myself go, I closed my eyes, and when I reopened them...
The tears come, without breath, without end, merciless and cold like winter. My sobs trickle back into my throat and flood my lungs, and my chest aches with the terrible sensation of drowning. I tremble with the sobs. They roll through me like the tide, break from my lips in an unsteady, staccato rhythm.
I wipe the tears away with soft, delicate hands and brush the stray droplets from my cheeks. I cup them in my palms. Each of them are like jewels shimmering in the lights of the candle-globes that drift through my sanctuary. I came here to gather my thoughts, to reflect on the past with an eye toward the future, to cleanse my mind before the coming journey. Yet concentration slips through my grasp like water through my fingers, shattering as they fall until only shadows of happy memories remain.
My limbs tremble, too tired to stand on their own anymore. I embrace what little of the cold tiled floor I feel through my cheek. Deep inside there is a stirring in my breast, a hunger, poisonous like a serpent, biting into my heart, until it feels as if my breast would burst, swelled with venom and brittle with cold.
What did he mean?!
I replay the memory in my mind again, hoping for the hundredth time that I would grow numb to it this time, at least a bit.
There was the warmth of his body, the harsh scent of his skin. A good Sensate was always open to new experience, and when I put my mind to it I found I could love that scent: acrid but scholarly, sharp but severe. His scent was like a knife's edge sometimes, honed and piercing. It excited me.
"Only you. ONLY you," his words, no more than a whisper, echo in my mind a hundred, a THOUSAND times.
All it took was a moment's hesitation on my part, and he peeled himself away from me. The cold air rushed in, pebbling my skin and leaving me chill and my spirit fragile, like glass.
I tremble at the memory of him leaving, the way his eyes stared coldly past his shoulder, half-lidded in disappointment. He needed me and I had hesitated at the brink of time's door. I tried to tell him that I was not afraid to go, that I was afraid of being too weak, afraid I would stay...
I cursed my weakness then. If I should've been afraid of anything it should've been of losing him: of feeling him pull away and leaving my flesh cold, of letting his sharp scent fade into nothing, of losing the chilling rumble of his voice or the taste of his lips. True terror struck me then, at the sight of him turning his back to me and walking through the door, disappearing down the hall before I could cry out for him and beg for forgiveness.
The serpent writhes in my breast again, its fangs biting into my heart, filling it to bursting with its poison. The tears come, running down my cheeks in streams, his words echoing...
"Only you. ONLY you."
My eyes snap open - it is HIS voice! I whirl, and I gasp; he stands, powerful, in the shadows, and he strides into the light of the drifting candle globes. I feel the serpent writhing and DYING, its hiss weakening with each step. His face, stern, but somewhere, in those features, I can almost see his pleasure at seeing me. After all, he returned for m-
"Only you can help me, Deionarra. But it was wrong for me to ask you for your help..."
Something was wrong-
The name is sweet on his lips, like the first waters of spring trickling over the stones, and he strides from like light, gray-skinned like a statue-
Oh powers above am I that scarred?! MyHis body looks like it had been bathed in knife blades, the wounds, the tattoos, horrible-
How can she SEE me in such a way?! Can't she see the dark sneer, the cruel ice in his eyes. She dresses a CLOAK over my features, she sees me in such light, such terrible longing, light... for she... how can she FEEL such...?
I feel my vision tearing, doubling until I am that man striding from the light, it is Deionarra's experience, and it is mine, and it is his...
"I asked too much of you to accompany me, Deionarra. I have no right to place you in such danger for my sake..."
The girl trembles as she looks up at me, mewling like a broken kitten. I had broken many men... some were hard as stone, but enough blows would shatter them so that they might be rebuilt into something better. Others were like metal, and persistent hammering would work them into a new, solid form as I wished. Many were like clay in my hands, easily shaped though with too much work they would collapse into a muddy heap. But this girl... this insipid, irritating girl was like glass. From the moment I left I pondered as to whether I had pushed too hard, whether I had broken her beyond repair. I am glad that was not the case.
I let my pleasure give veracity and life to my smile, "Oh Deionarra, beloved..."
They were my words, but they were a surgeon's words, chosen with cold skill, without a TRACE of emotion. With every word, I felt him SNEERING inside, knowing what the stricken girl will see next through her longing-stained eyes, and who - am I THAT person, that man TWISTING her with my words, not KNOWING how powerful they are to her, like bolts from a ballista, piercing her breast.
Warmth and relief flood into my skin and I choke, light-headed and giddy at the sight of him. I nearly collapse as I try to stand. Just his presence makes me tremble, his smile sends my heart skipping.
The clumsy girl stumbles as she attempts to get to her feet, flopping on the floor like a dying fish as she bunches up the tangles of her skirts in her hands. I had bought her those silks, blue as the sky and with folds rippling like the sea. I click my tongue... such a waste of a good gown.
"I have come to ask your forgiveness, Deionarra. I shall return to you as soon as I am able -" the hook snags her heart and her eyes widen just as I expected.
My mind strained like a tendon, consciousness on the verge of snapping at being pulled three ways. Something gushed inside my head, a warmth flooded into my nose.
"H-help... some... one..." the words were salty and tasted of iron on my lips.
Some muddled part of me was trying desperately to speak, to WARN Deionarra that this was not a man, but a creature that kills for his own needs, he doesn't CARE about you, Deionarra, you are a TOOL to him, a TOOL he needs to-
Deionarra spoke, and I couldn't STOP her....
That shrill, whining cry of neediness fills her voice as she fumbles with the words. She practically grovels in trying to prove herself to me. "I would place myself in a thousand dangers, embrace eternity for you, my Love! I am not afraid! Listen to me -- I will accompany you, though the Planes themselves should bar -"
"...though the Planes themselves should bar the way...."
I felt myself shattering, her relief and satisfaction, and his satisfaction at her words, KNOWING she would say them, always KNOWING, as if he were anticipating the moves of a child playing on a chessboard.
Her admission of love is like the slamming of a portcullis across my heart. Trapped. She is mine, but I must be certain, so I drive the nail home, dangle the bait a little more.
"The way is dangerous. You will have to be strong... far stronger than you are now." Oh, yes. By the look in her eyes she'd claw at it like a starving cat.
Swimming through my mind, relief, the wave of relief. The tide pulls back, the tears grow warm and sweet. The end of longing, yet LONGING for him more at his words. No, no... my hands yearn to touch him again, I chew my lips to keep myself from pressing them to his flesh. No I must not be too needy, I must not frighten him off...
Her bony fingers clutch at her skirts, her lips writhe at the effort to not kiss me then. Good girl, restrain yourself. Heel.
All I need to be is strong, and his path shall be as one with mine! My thoughts are like fires... for I can be strong, stronger than he knows, and at his side I would know no fear, I would DIE for him...!
"I can be strong, my Love. I will -"
Her words slid off of him like water. The serpent in her breast, the one that was piercing her heart with its poison had been replaced by this serpent in the flesh. She saw nothing of this, and his next words were planned, carefully, so carefully...
I tried to tear my hand away from the sensory stone, to rip my hair from its roots or to claw my eyes out and blind myself to what I was seeing.
"I can't say if we'll succeed, Deionarra, but I'll do my best to protect you. And I will expect nothing less of the same from you. You..."
"...you may be required to make some sacrifices." I nod eagerly, and begin edging toward him. If I get close enough, perhaps he would touch me again, run his fingers through my hair, press me into the rawness of his bare chest. Sacrifices...
At that final, terrible, word, I felt myself being TORN apart; he meant her harm... he can't mean me harm, for I was that girl, and he meant to HURT her, because I simply NEED her to be harmed. I wanted to SCREAM, SCREAM AT HER THAT SHE IS IN DANGER, RUN, RUN, DEIONARRA, FOR HIS EYES UNMAKE ALL THINGS AND -
"Of course, my Love. Life is sacrifice. This I have learned."
SheI spoke the words, and in it, I felt myself dying inside. I am a spectator, I am his lover, I am her master, and at that moment I knew I had watched a woman die. Those words were a death sentence, and she neither knew nor cared.
Yet, still, still she spoke, unheeding, uncaring....
"I... left a legacy in my father's keeping, my Love; ask for the sixth, the third, the Kay and the 'S.' In it, I bequeath everything to you; it's not much, but with it, I left..."
A wave of irritation washes over me; and I clench my teeth to prevent the it from crossing my features. Must she always continue to prattle, even when I do not prompt her?! Must she - but no - no, keep the irritation inside, only a trace slips out...
"Come now, I cannot DIE, Deionarra. There is no NEED for such foolishness..." my voice writhes at the effort to keep calm, to not dash my knuckles across her cheek. For ONCE I would love to wipe that moronic smile from her face, clear that lobotomized, teary-eyed look from my sight...
My stomach feels hollow, the joy and relief suddenly slain and cauterized like a rotten wound. Cold fear overcomes me and fills that hollow, fear that revolts me, that shocks and terrifies me that I might lose him again... I watch him frown, and I hasten to correct him. He must know the reasons and know the wisdom behind them so he is impressed with my planning! Speak! Speak, before he turns away...
"I know I often act foolishly, my Love..." the words were quieter on my lips, and I try not to be impressed with my own calm, "but you said yourself that you CAN forget things if you are badly hurt. There are things in the legacy that could help you remember should you forget yourself."
I coldly regard her through my eyes, tracing my gaze along her furrowed brow, wrinkled with worry, desperation. She has acted as I expected... yet there is something in what she says...
"Perhaps... yet I hope nothing in this legacy is of value... I do not want you to leave any things here in some safe that could be of some use on our journey." Why were women always like this, storing knickknacks out of sentiment? Why couldn't their hoarding be spent on practical things instead?
Her illusion was shattered, just for a moment - I watched, silent, as the emotion fell to the ground, splintering like silvered glass. "...of some use..." such a casual statement, yet even Deionarra SAW, and I hoped, just for a moment, I HOPED that she could SEE him for what he is... the serpent, the SERPENT...
...and my hope died, as in Deionnara's eyes, the emotion is rebuilt, the slivers being drawn from the ground, the illusion rebuilt, but the slight sliver of pain remained.
Oh please let him not think that I have done something foolish! I did it for HIM! I must... must make amends, but how?! I must convince him the legacy is unimportant, but it ISN'T, it ISN'T. I choke back a sob. It's EVERYTHING...
"The legacy, my Love, it... it just has a few things to help you remem --"
The scythe of words fell on Deionarra, so quick, so sharp, I couldn't follow its arcing path.
"A legacy? The things you do, Deionarra... such... romantic gestures. No matter..."
No! Please, oh Powers Above let me not have driven him away again, like I did the night before! I feel the serpent stirring again, reborn, curling around my heart. There is the softest of hisses, yet he can't hear...
"Would... would you wish to leave a legacy, my Love? For yourself.. or for anyone you would want to. It might help you remember if you left something for yourself... or for the ones you loved..."
"A legacy for myself? Not likely... the things I would leave for myself would not be safe in some advocate's office, Deionarra. But enough of this... I must leave." He begins to turn-
No! I cannot bear to see him turn his back to me again, to no longer taste his scent or the sweetness of his lips, the coarse growl of his voice or the roughness of his skin against mine. I need to make him remain...
And the experience SWIRLED around me, terrible, the spiraling toward the final scene... the QUESTION I... she... wants to ask, don't ask it, Deionarra! Don't ASK IT BE SILENT BE SILENT
"My Love, before you go..."
DAMN IT ALL WHAT NOW GIRL WHAT NOW YOU MEWLING BANSHEE
"'Before I go?' It looks like I am in no danger of that. Come, Deionarra, can't these questions wait for the morn? There is much-"
"Do you want me to come with you, my Love?"
The rush of emotion died in my mind. This is the end. The words he was about speak were true, but the truth was not the truth she saw. There were no lies, only cold calculations. Of course he wants you to come with him, Deionarra. I understood it clearly, too clearly: He had invested too much in the poor girl to let her go.
"Of course, Deionarra. I would not have asked you to come with me if I did not want your company. You know how I feel about you..."
There is a cold silence in my mind, then a hissing of a thought, a response sharp and deadly, like a dagger blade. The lie comes swiftly, unburdened by emotion.
"I love you, Deionarra."
And I wanted to SCREAM as I felt the lie wash over her like a RADIANCE, a SHADOW of TRUTH, A SERPENT'S KISS, AND HE MEANS YOU HARM AND SHE CAN'T SEE I WANT TO CALL OUT BUT SHE IS CRYING WITH JOY EVEN AS - EVEN AS -
I cry with joy...
I cry with frustration...
I weep with relief...
I weep with despair...
The emotion washed over me, as if I were drowning, DROWNING, and I needed to speak, I LONGED to speak, but I couldn't... and...
I fall into his arms shamelessly, throw myself on his mercy praying that he might accept me and the heart that I had laid down on a pedastal for him. My fingers clutch his shoulders, and my heart lifts as he hoists me up, his body warm and his heart beating for me, the chemical scent of him piercing and his lips sweet against my cheek. They kiss away my tears, gentle and strong with unshaken purpose.
Her hands paw at me and I drag her to her feet, and my heart pounds with the effort of not strangling her right there. I kiss her cheek so that she can't see the fury on my face, the annoyance at her pestilent doddering, and hush her with a voice as smooth as I could make it. My anger is masked by the natural rumble in my throat.
"Shhh... Deionarra... you're mine. Forever."
...and I screamed, screamed as I tore my hands from the stone, bloody tears rushing from your eyes, running in streams down my arms, my hands, coating the stone crimson with my sins. It still pulsed pale blue, lighting the scarlet stains like a heartbeat.
Blood! Her blood! And... I couldn't WARN her... and I couldn't stop CRYING...
And suddenly Fall-From-Grace was there, and her touch was gentle like silk. She brushed the tears from my eyes, even as I felt the screams welling up within me. She shhhhhhed me, cradling my face through the bloody tears. Her velvety wings wrapped around the two of us like a blanket, shielding us from the confused murmurs of the other Sensates.
"I... I... can't.... bear it... I... couldn't STOP her, I WANTED to, but I couldn't do anything...!"
Fall-From-Grace looked into my eyes, and she nodded sadly in understanding. "And that is the nature of longing. The desire for that which you cannot change or possess." She studied me, withdrawing her hand, now soaked in my blood. "Will you be all right?"
"Yes... yes... I just need a moment..."
"Very well..." Fall-From-Grace stepped back. "We will continue when you are ready."
I took a breath, tried to collect my thoughts.
As much as I wanted to hurl the memory of the experience from myself, I held it fast, because I knew it was important to remember it. It was me in that experience... it was Deionarra's experience, but because it was me, old memories flooded my mind, and I could FEEL both sides at once. Who WAS I? Who was that... that shade of me?