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Summary: Aleeme reflects during his imprisonment.
Spoilers: For pretty much all of Shades.
Disclaimer: Storm Constantine was brilliant and thought of all this, not me, tragically.
My hostling told me a human story once, about a princess trapped in a tower. She waited alone, empty and tragic until a prince arrived to save her. They fell in love and the entire world, from that moment on, was perfect. It’s all backwards and wrong for me. I fell in love, I felt that way, and I actually understood and believed all those silly fairytales. But then it went wrong, somehow, for reasons I still don’t really understand. I don’t want to, anymore, because I’m scared to learn just what they might be. Now it’s me locked away in a tower, not some distant character. Now I’m the one who suffers.
Can I describe this pain? Words don’t really exist for it, because what my life has become is something too terrible for them. Even ‘pelki’ falls short. That first time Ponclast touched me I thought I could fight it. That I could be stronger than this. All I would have to do was think of Azriel and he could not hurt me.
I still love him, but I can no longer even remember his face.
I remember Ponclast’s face, though. He was laughing. It was a violation on every level, something only the most twisted mind would even be able to imagine, much less actually do. I tried so hard to be strong, create walls in my mind to hide behind during it, but they shattered instantly. I screamed and sobbed and pleaded and none of it made the least bit of difference in the end, either time. I didn’t believe harlings could be conceived in hate. Now I’m an expert on the subject.
I don’t know what to think about my first son. The tiniest bit of my mind, the part that’s still sane, doesn’t want to hate him. Despite everything, it was not his fault. I don’t know if I can call him innocent, but maybe he is. But the rest of me hates him for his existence, and can only picture that laughing, insane face when I see at him. I haven’t named him. Most days I can’t even bear to look at him. When I do, I sometimes feel guilty. He’s so thin he can’t even crawl anymore. I don’t think Ponclast wanted him for the powers I have. He just wanted to hurt us all. I should take care of him, shouldn’t I? Isn’t my indifference as cruel as what was done to me? I can’t, though. Touching him — or anyone, now – repulses me. What kind of hostling am I? Am I as bad as his father in my treatment of him?
This second pearl I carry will be no different, I know that already. It’s not in me to love these children. I’m not strong enough for that. Azriel and I wanted harlings, someday. Now I know that will never happen, even if I am freed. I don’t ever want to have anything to do with this again, even with somehar I love. I don’t know if I could even let him touch me, in that imaginary, impossible future. Even the thought of aruna with him leaves me terrified, desperate. It’s something I can’t even deal with. I don’t think I’ll have to, anyways.
I’m dying, and I don’t care. I would have killed myself long ago, if they hadn’t realized that and taken everything from this room I could possibly have used. Everything except my heart, which is fading away each day, as surely as a poison. Most days I just sit staring out of this barred window, silent, unmoving. Waiting to die. Not looking for rescue or a knight in shining armor to come riding up and save me, but for death. Those things don’t exist any more.
The last time I saw Azriel was when Ponclast created this second pearl. He dragged me down to his cell and made him watch, just like the first time. It was even worse, though, because before we had both thought this was something we could survive. That second time we shared a single, numb glance that said it all. We were both broken, had both given up on hope, on memory, on love. Death was enough because nothing else worth waiting for existed. I still screamed, and he still begged Ponclast to let me go, to do this to him instead, and we still felt those desperate emotions but at the same time we were both so strangely detached from it all. Like we had both just accepted that we were going to suffer and resigned ourselves to it. As if nothing mattered anymore. We were both already dead.
I used to think about home, or the future to take my mind off things. I would imagine that we would be rescued and somehow everything would be all right again. That we could still have our happily ever after. I don’t even remember those dreams anymore. Friends and family have become names, nothing more, and even those are threatening to fade. It’s like my mind is just turning itself off, trying to shut down the suffering completely but even that is not enough to stop the pain. Nothing is.
If I could I’d step out this window, plunge myself and this not quite innocent harling to our deaths. A single moment of freedom before it all finally stopped. That’s what I dream about now, not love.
That story about the princess never talks about her life in the tower, only her true love. It makes me wonder what happened to her, that no one would want to tell it.