Deep in the Dark
by Addie & Rameses
Introduction & Disclaimer
Credits & Acknowledgments:
To Storm, for letting us borrow her magnificent characters and making us learn new facets to their personalities.
And to my dearest friends who gave me much encouragement: Athena, my darling sis, who was so patient with me and let me have the fantastic honor of writing with her. *You’re a gem, love*
And to Mischa, the great connoisseur, whose keen-eyed editing called my attention to so many howlers and squiggles; and made this story come alive at Forever.
Characters: A Traveller, Calanthe, Pellaz, Caeru
Ratings: N/C 17 (Adult)
All items contained on these pages are non-profit amateur fiction. The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire and all characters named in those books are the copyright of Storm Constantine and her publishers. No infringement on the copyrights are intended.
Deep in the Dark
Part 1 (Rameses)
He was dying.
There was no question of it. He knew it. He could feel it.
This was his life’s climax? To die in the arid wilderness with the colossal range of mountains about him as his pallbearers or rather pyre bearers? They stared down silently at him, against the still, blazing sun, casting monolithic triangular shapes. In order they stood, like sentry soldiers, lifeless yet erringly watchful. The mountains and the rest of Mother Nature waiting to eventually reclaim his wretched corpse. What position would his bones have as the sand-laden winds engulfed them? Would they be in this slightly propped up position he was presently in or in a tangled mass of indistinguishable bones – assuming he could persuade one of the boulders above to came crashing down on his body first? That thought made him smile and as he made to give that smile a voice, he was wracked by another fit of coughing that hacked at his insides and left him utterly breathless. He spat a blob of greenish phlegm swirling with clotted blood and wheezed raggedly, licking his chaffed, wounded lips with a dry blistered tongue. He stared dully at the splat of slime, laughter spent. He would reconsider much more carefully before attempting another bout of mirth.
There was nothing else to stare at, so he continued to stare at the vile mucus, which was already beginning to shrivel up on the scorching rocks beside him. If he stared at the open plains, they would only tantalize him with phantoms of paradise. He’d seen enough mirages for a lifetime.
After a while he felt the need to change position. He shut his eyes in preparation for the effort. Not that it helped anyway because the sun still cast a reddish tinge inside his eyelids. He clenched his jaw as he made to roll onto his side. His shattered lower right limb screamed in painful protest and he screamed with it. His whole body seared with barely endurable pain. It was useless so he gave up the task.
Yesterday, he would have been able to shift whenever he became too uncomfortable from either the sharp, jutting rocks prodding one side of his entire frame or the merciless sun that slowly roasted his skin but now, he couldn’t be bothered. Pain from the leg was another luxury entirely. At first, he had tried inflicting wounds on his arms with a jagged rock in order to relocate the excruciating pain coming from his leg, a trick he had learnt decades ago, but it was useless. The pain would not budge.
That morning at the first splash of dawn, he had awoken from his feverish sleep to find his tattered clothes covered in dew and had sucked the moisture from them, at times chewing the fabric to extract every precious iota of fluid. It had tasted salty, grainy and caked in dried sweat but it would help him live even if it was for a few more hours. He was glad he got to it before the sun did.
He squinted his eyes to look at “The Mountain That Did This To Me.” It was the name he had given it and had begun to make a habit of idly giving the said mountain a glance every now and then. He even spoke to it, muttering now, swearing loudly later. Well, there was nobody else for him to talk to while he waited for death. After all, the damned mountain was responsible for his condition. He had to blame someone. Or something. He was going mad, he thought. Perhaps it was just delirium. He shut his eyes briefly, flicked them open once more and looked intently at his nemesis, the mountain. It shimmered for a second as a heat wave passed over it and it looked distorted. But only for a moment. Ahhh. Delirium then, he concluded, relaxing his eyes once more.
He should give it a name. At least, he would feel that he had a sort of “friend” around him when the end came. Besides, he needed to get his friend’s consent to chuck a boulder on him to end it quickly and therefore needed a name. He wanted no mistake when the time came. It had to be that very mountain. It had to finish for itself what it had already started. He swore at it for the umpteenth time in a tired voice without bothering to open his eyes. Too much effort.
He shivered from the heat and flicked open his eyes. Had he been asleep? A name had come to him as he rested:
He would christen his lifeless friend Doom Rock. How appropriate. He chuckled softly and coughed again, though not as terribly as before. Weak fingers slithered around to find a cool spot on the rocks. They found none. He gave up and pushed his palms down anyway so that he could sit up a little, facing his companion.
“Hear that? I’ll call you Doom Rock!” he addressed the mountain. “Now all that’s left is for me to draw enough karmatic* energy to get you to rain your children down on me and end this.”
He slumped back, his rasping breath sounding piteously. Three sentences and he felt he had done fifty miles of running. And he wanted to perform a karmatic spell. Very great ambitions indeed. The same way he had great ambitions of coming to Immanion. He snorted softly and felt a sharp pain in his lungs. Nothing mattered anymore. Nothing. His mind was too filled with morbid thoughts of dying to bother much with what his body now did.
Was he bitter at the fate that had befallen him almost two days hence? Oh yes. Dreadfully bitter. Only at first. Now, he could see that it was meant to be this way. What a glorious end to so much suffering! He had always wanted to go out with a bang. Well, not this time, maybe next life. He found it fascinating how slow death brought out the dark humour in him and fuelled an impatient urge to embrace the beyond… wherever that was. He chuckled hoarsely at his latest witty remark. Yesterday had been for hope, for life; but now he had resigned himself to his fate and he just wanted it done with. He wanted to die now, no more postponements.
Finding Immanion should have been his one salvation. He had hated his life and wanted it ended but thought he would give it one more try and find healing with the Gelaming. He had survived the robbery and travelled on foot this far. They said the Great City of the Tigron was near here. He had met only a huge range of mountains, stolidly glaring back at him. No matter, he had proclaimed, I will climb over them. No mountain in the universe would prevent him from reaching his goal. He had been wrong.
The climbing had been smooth but tiring. It chewed at his finger tips, bruising them raw, but he had kept on. I am almost there, he kept muttering to himself, exulting in the way the adrenalin kept his tired body going. He should have stopped but he was too excited to give in to that luxury. Dusk was swiftly approaching. Once more, an inner voice chided him to stop and rest on a nearby ledge. He refused to heed that call. Immanion was so tantalizingly close! He had dreamed of this for years and now that he was almost there, he dared not stop.
One false step in the encroaching darkness was all that was needed. He fell, battering his body as he plummeted. He heard his right leg snap. Once. Twice. He lost count. By the time he slammed at the base of the mountain, he was unconscious.
The first day had passed, with the heat, the pain and the troubles that befell him keeping him in constant mood swings. He had raged, wept, screamed, whispered, laughed, cried and reminisced about his whole life; the tragedies, the too brief periods of joy, the grief, the meager triumphs, the sufferings. All of it.
Somewhere in between, he had started talking to the mountains, singling out his nemesis. By high afternoon, he could smell his skin burning and at least had the energy to shift positions and hide in the shelter of the shadows about him. Hope had kept his energy up. Hope that somebody would come rescue him. That hope had quickly slunk to become despair and the two emotions kept swinging before him like the two-sided head of the god Janus. The Gelaming were supposed to be all-seeing, were they not? Why weren’t they here? He didn’t want to die. Someone had to come, he was sure of it. But nobody came.
The second day was here. He was beginning to regret not using his karmatic energy to kill himself earlier when he still had the strength. Too scared to die at my own hands or being too stupid to think that some Good Samaritan would come passing by and save me. Too late now. He hadn’t enough strength to even crawl behind the shade of one of the nearby rocks as he had done the day before. He must have an amazing, gorgeous tan by now, he thought wryly. How he wished it was only that. His pale skin had always been sensitive to too much sun. He could feel the sunburn everywhere on him, regardless of exposed skin or not.
His breathing was becoming irregular. He felt very tired. Yeah, okay what else is new?
He involuntarily shivered again from the heat. His head swam and he could no longer feel his ruined leg. Just as well. He coughed disastrously once more, his lungs felt as if stabbed with hot knives. His noises echoed around him. He spat more mucus, now it was mostly blood. The broken ribs had gored his lungs, going much deeper than he thought. The rasping was now more pronounced and he could feel himself getting weaker. Hooray, he thought listlessly. It comes at last. He struggled to open his blood-encrusted eyes to look at Doom Rock.
“Looks like I won’t be needing your help after all, old friend,” he croaked.
His eye caught something white and shimmering in the distance. It looked like horses. White horses. Must be a mirage… No. Gelaming on white horses. His mind was playing games. He closed his eyes and fell into that sweet void that had been eluding him for so long. He had found his peace. His last thought was… “Finally”
Karmatic energy is one of the new skills that the Wraeththu have managed to discover shortly after the ascension of Thiede and Calanthe’s coronation. It involves being able to tap into the life-force energies of nature or supposedly inanimate, non-living objects and mould it to work for the har wielding it. Only hara of Algoma (the highest caste of the second level Ulani) and above possess the talent to use this power. It is called karmatic because it is not the har that is creating the energy but rather him tapping into it, for instance, a rock’s energy and using it briefly, before returning the energy back to the object. As such, no new energy is created, neither is any destroyed. Both the living hara and the inert object get the psychic energies back once the spell is completed.
Part 2 (Addie)
I had another dream last night, more vivid than the ones I have had before. In this dream I was a young human again, working in the fields beside my sister Mima. I was hot and tired, toiling for hours under the sun. I could feel my flesh burning, and my body hurting. As I glanced up from my toil, however, the face I saw wasn’t my sister’s. A young man was standing before me, pleading for help. He looked familiar… his eyes were brown, his hair, long down his back, but shaved at the sides. I tried to remember his name but it eluded my grasp.
I was so hot, burning up, tossing and turning.
The dream rapidly shifted then, and I was a newly incepted har, travelling the road with Cal. My love, my life… but as he turned to me his face changed, shifting and swirling through the hues of the rainbow until another was riding next to me. This young har was slumped over his horse, in obvious pain. How could I help him?
I was just about to reach for him when I felt warm breath touching my ear. Waking up I saw Rue, leaning over me, a glint of amusement on his face. “Having a dream, Tigron?”
With a monumental effort I rose onto my elbows and glared at him. “What are you doing here?”
“Tut, tut,” he brought his hands to his hips and tried to look annoyed at me. “You asked me to let you know when Cal returned. He’s having a bath.”
“What an excellent memory, Rue,” I snarled at him sarcastically. “Now go away.”
My endless mane of hair slipped away from my frame as I eased my feet over the side of the bed, feeling like I had actually been toiling in the hot fields. When my feet touched the cold floor, I let out a gasp. My legs were bright red. I looked like I had been sun burnt. I heard another gasp coming from Rue, and as I looked up I caught the wide eyed expression on his face. “Holy Aghama! What happened to you?”
I glanced down at my torso that was also red and burnt looking, then touched my face. It was burning hot. With an equally wide eyed expression I lurched over to the mirror, forgetting my normal false modesty in front of Rue. Pushing my hair back off my face I let out another gasp. I spun around to face my Tigrina. “Is this some kind of a joke? Has someone put a sun lamp in my room, or something?”
“Shit, Pell. You’re going to have some nice tan.” Rue was grinning from ear to ear at me, his eyes caressing my body perhaps already seeing that the burns didn’t look that dangerous.
“Well answer me!”
“No… Pell. Why would anyone do that? For the love of Aghama, you must have sat out in the sun too long yesterday, that’s all.”
“I was in my rooms all day yesterday, Rue. Ashmael and I were working on the latest plans for the new Temple complex. I never set foot outside.”
Rue came over to me then and touched my face gently. “That’s strange… it’s fading already. Look!”
I turned back to the mirror again, and sure enough the redness had almost gone. I wondered then if it had something to do with my dream; it had been so vivid. I looked over to my bed and saw the tangled and sweat soaked sheets. “That must have been some nightmare.” Rue commented, as he followed my eye. “Why don’t you join Cal in his bath.”
“What a good idea,” I smirked at Rue, who flung his hands in the air and stomped out of the room. I could hear him mumbling under his breath, something about oversexed Tigrons.
Cal was singing at the top of his voice as I entered the bathing complex. His blonde hair was dripping down to the floor as he hung his head over the edge of the huge, marbled bathtub. I knelt down beside the bath, letting my robe slip demurely to the floor, and kissed his wet soapy lips. “Ahhh, my Tigron. Are you going to get in?”
I slipped into the bath with Cal, noticing as I did, that my skin had returned back to it’s normal colour. I sighed as I felt Cal’s hands running down my torso to the bloom between my legs. “I’ve missed you, Pell,” he crooned to me, as his hands began their sensual foreplay.
Aruna always has the magical ability to free my mind of other worries and concerns, and this time was no exception. As we coupled, with the soapy water tumbling over the sides of the bath, and our slippery bodies squeaking against the marble, I thought only of Cal; his blue eyes, his expert hands and his hot body slowly bringing mine to an overwhelming climax.
Cal ran the hot water tap again, as by the time we had finished, the water had almost completely splashed from the bath and was pooled all over the floor. I shivered for a few minutes until the hot water rose up over my body again.
“Our soldiers picked up a traveller today. Some poor wretch who looked like he had fallen off the eastern cliff.” Cal said, with nonchalant grace, as he leant over the side of the bath to pick up the soap.
“Really?” I said, half heartedly.
“He was so sunburnt, he was hardly recognizably as har.”
“What!” I sat bolt upright in the bath, sloshing more water on the floor.
Part 3 (Rameses)
I am in a dark, swirling sea of tranquility. Indescribable shapes from the deepest limbo assault me and I know not if I am awake or in a dream state. It is good. It is quiet. I am content.
In time, I can see, feel nor hear nothing. I rest.
I awake. Or at least, I think I’m awake. Reality and dream state are now working enmeshed to my senses and I cannot tell the difference. I hear the voices. They echo as if far away from here. Where is here? What is here? Who is here? I do not know. I do not care. I am awake and I hear soothing voices. That’s good enough for me. They must be angels coming to give me my invitation to feast at Thiede’s table. He has forgiven me then. All those years I procrastinated about him and prohibited any of my people to foul their lips with his name.
The voices are louder, more urgent. There is no harm here. Why do they worry? They. Who are they? Too many questions and they make me think. I do not want to think, I want to die. I want to be void, empty, still. I start to feel myself floating, flying. Oh, the pleasure of it!
“His spirit is trying to flee! Hold him! Hold him! Stay with him, Kiovesh!”
“I can’t! He’s already going into the ethereal!”
“His silver cord! Keep hold of his silver cord! You mustn’t let go!”
“We are trying…!”
“Become one with his pain for it is the only thing that he will remember. What he remembers is his link to the physical.” This was a new voice. I liked it. It was peaceful resonating complete peace. Mayhaps it was Thiede himself. By pure instinct, I could tell that this voice was not in this same place with the others but we could all hear it. Ahhh. Lateral projection. Must be a highly trained har. He sounded oddly familiar too. Yes it must be Thiede. The Aghama. I come to you now. All sounds faded and I concentrated on only that voice.
I saw a face. It was seraphically beautiful. It was Calanthe. I frowned and shrunk back. This was not right. He was not the Aghama. I knew he was a god, one of the Tigrons; but not the Aghama. I tried to use my arm to cover my eyes. What arms? I had no arms. I had no limbs. I was just I.
Calanthe’s lips moved, the words gently prodding but I could hear not a single syllable of what he said. Then slowly, ever so slowly, his words reached me.
…”Have you tapped into him? His pain is still there. I feel it, too,” said Calanthe.
What pain? What was he talking about? I had no pain. His face leaned closer to mine and shared breath with me. It felt like my soul had been cast open yet the sharing of breath repulsed me. I looked into his eyes and at that moment, his face changed and molded into a face from my past. A face that generated from my pain. It was Orien.
Once more, I shrunk back. My whole surroundings burst away in a storm of splintering glass to become a desolate plane filled only with rocks. Why rocks? A reminder of my death? The sky was a lavender purple. Golden aurora lights shifted swirling shapes against it. Orien’s hands were covered in blood. His own blood. He had been using them to hold his insides in place. I looked down at his abdomen. I looked at the vacant black hole where his bowels should have nestled. I looked again at his eyes. They were dead, yet filled with an unmistakable glint of fiery light. No irises. No pupils. Just a dead, fiery light. I screamed.
How long I screamed, I know not, but in all that time my fear had life in the form of my voice, I heard no sound. It was a silent scream. And Orien just kept looking at me with those eyes. Then he held out a hand and my eyes were drawn not to the hand, but the rivulet of blood that flowed along the deathly pale skin. I could not draw my eyes away from it. So much blood.
“You seek your peace,” came Orien’s voice. It sounded calm, just like the Orien I remembered. “But it will not find you till you give that pain rest. Do you understand?” I kept staring at his arm; I could not look him in the face. “Do you understand?” he said again in a strong firm voice that echoed around us. I looked up then but still did not answer. “Do that and you will find your peace.” The face changed again. I saw another form in it’s place. Farbien. My son.
I stood still. It could not be. But it was. He stood before me, glowing with health and vitality. What was this? It was only an apparition. It was not Farbien. Impossible.
“Father,” he said, coming towards me. “It’s me.” I could not move. He came nearer and then I noticed he was carrying something large in his right hand. It was an intricately designed scale like none I had ever seen, clearly crafted by the gods themselves. The stem and stand were made of diamonds and the dishes were of the purest gold. Symbols and ancient runes were carved onto the plates and they constantly shifted shape, writhing of their own accord. The dishes themselves hovered in mid air, as if attached to the rest of the article by invisible chains.
“Your heart is heavy, I know. Come, let me lift off the burden,” and with that, he touched my chest and his hand sank within. I froze, paralysed. I felt a wrenching, a pull then a withdrawal but no pain. I glanced down. In his hand was a dark mass of withering flesh that thumped with a sickly pulse. My heart. It was blacker than I remembered.
He placed it on one of the pans of the scale. Then he turned his palm upwards and within it, a tiny shower of lights from mid air rained, forming a bright, multi-coloured feather. I looked down at where it lay in his palm and saw that it glowed softly at the edges and the raindow colours of it constantly shifted. Farbien placed the feather on the other pan and in disbelief, I saw that it tipped the weight of my heart. How could that be? My heart was too burdened to weigh less than a feather. This could not be.
“It surprises you?” he smiled gently at me with complete love. “No matter how heavy your heart is, there will always be a way to lighten it because your spirit can heal it.” He touched my heart, still thumping with a life of its own on the dish, and before my eyes, it began to change. It became puce, blood red, pink then orange and still it changed. Until it became a glowing mass of gold with white-yellow light pulsing through the vessels. It glowed so much it was almost hard to look at. I could feel my face being bathed in it’s warm light and shut my eyes shuddering from the simple wonder of it. I opened my eyes seconds later to find that he had replaced it within my chest cavity and then he touched my face, smiling benignly.
“Heal father. Forget the past and start again with your life. Salvation is here to be found, if you know where to look. Weep for me no more.”
And with that, he was gone and I awoke.
My eyes hurt from the tedious task of opening them. The brightness of the room was excruciatingly blinding and I blinked several times to adjust them to the light.
I wasn’t in heaven but it seemed like it.
Six unfamiliar faces looked down at me with kindness in their eyes. They were clad in white and gold embroidery. Angels or Gelaming? Or both in one?
“You will live,” said one of the angels in a grave voice
I tried to answer but I only heard a croak. My mouth was totally dry and my tongue filled my mouth. I tried to move and was assaulted by searing pain from head to toe. I let out a sound that must have been a groan.
“Rest easy now, traveller.” He reached for my hand and placed on my palm a bright feather. It looked exactly like the one I had seen in my dream. Gasping, I tried to prop myself up, compelled to speak. With kind hands they tried to keep me still. Gulping for air, I whispered, “How…?”
“Your son asked us to give it to you.”
I shut my eyes as the tears forced their way through. My son. Farbien. I wept.
Part 4 (Addie)
Cal had been summoned by the healers to attend the har they had found in the desert, leaving me alone with my thoughts. Burnt. He had been burnt. I had dreamt about being burnt. Was there some connection? I tried to go about my business, tried to wipe the thoughts of this unfortunate traveller from my mind, but they would not leave me.
My dream had been so real, so real in fact that I had suffered the effects of it as I had woken. Rue could affirm this. I hadn’t told Cal about it. In fact I never really had the chance; I needed him physically when we first caught up, then he was gone again.
I asked Cal if I could accompany him, to visit the wounded one, but he seemed to think that sort of thing was beneath me. Did he have another agenda, I wondered? Did he know who this har was and was trying to protect me? These thoughts also swirled about my head. I needed some wine, so I called on Attica to bring me a tray and something to eat. Perhaps if my mind was dulled slightly with the wine I wouldn’t be able to think so much.
Attica grinned at me as he came back. “You made a bit of a mess in the bathroom, it took me an hour to soak up all the water.”
I did not even give him the courtesy of a reply, I simply stared right through him. I saw him shiver then drop his eyes. He had overstepped the boundaries again. The wanton letch probably spied on Cal and me, I wouldn’t put it past him. My anger filled me for a few minutes and I felt relief at being able to think of something else. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning… a feeling of despair, wretchedness, pain. He wanted to leave this world so desperately the healers were having a hard time hanging onto him.
Was this one familiar to me? I connected with Cal, who was standing over him, trying to bring him back from the abyss. I projected my calming thoughts into his mind, tried to help him. His thoughts were jumbled. He thought I was Thiede. Oh well, Thiede was a part of me, it wouldn’t hurt him to think he was receiving divine intervention.
As one with Cal I bent to share breath with him. Continuing to flow into him with my thoughts, I realised I had fallen back against the soft cushions and could feel my body shaking. Attica was panicking, a small part of me was aware of him hovering about trying to decided what to do. My eyes fluttered and the vision of him blurred, but I was aware of him lifting my legs to the couch and covering me with something soft. I tried to murmur, “Thank you,” but nothing came out.
Then I saw another face in the wounded one’s mind, and this har I knew too well. Orien! The vision was almost more than I could bear. My dear friend and mentor, gutted, covered in blood. I felt my body reacting and began to retch. Attica was buzzing about me like a blow fly; I felt his hand at my back as he lifted me up, lest I vomit all over myself.
My hands clutched desperately to the material of the couch as a scream ripped through my body. At first I thought it was me who was screaming, but after a few seconds, I knew it was him, the hurt one. Such pain.
Who was he? Who was it from my past who knew Orien? Had he been seeking me out, or Cal? Perhaps he just wanted the safety and healing powers of the Gelaming. He certainly needed those, and not just for his battered and bruised body. His mind it seemed was almost broken, and his heart cold. I could feel it seeping out of him.
Someone appeared to him now, one I didn’t know. It was a personal and deeply emotional confrontation. I was not a part of this – but I had the feeling that I was certainly part of the reason he had come to Immanion.
After a while I stopped shaking, and as my thoughts drifted quietly back to the traveller I realised he was at rest, sleeping peacefully. I hoped my small efforts had helped him, but I had the distinct impression that his final ghost was the one who calmed his emotions and lightened his heart. This ghost was as close to him as any could be – a lover maybe, or a child.
Attica was kneeling beside the sofa, worry and confusion showing on his face. I smiled wanly at him and he sighed with relief. “Where were you, Tigron?”
“In my past.”
His brows knotted as he tried to understand what I was getting at. “In someone’s thoughts, from my past, I believe.” I explained, but the puzzlement remained in his eyes.
“Come, let me clean you up.”
I was confused then, but as I glanced down, I realised I had made quite a mess of myself and I stank. “Shit!”
“It must have been bad…to make you so upset.” Attica said as he pulled off my shirt and attempted to remove my trousers.
“It’s all right, I can do this.”
He mumbled under his breath, thought better of it, and smiled sheepishly at me. After he had left I sank back onto the couch again, coughing at the smell about me. I focused my mind and coolly found a rational core within it’s muddled depths, then I willed the massive windows and doors to my private balcony to swing open and let the cool breeze rid my surroundings of this stench.
I really needed to have another bath as well, by myself this time. But more importantly I needed to find this mysterious traveller and see for myself if he was who I thought he was.
I couldn’t bring myself to believe it was him. Please, let it be, I whispered to myself as I quickly found another shirt to pull on. Hurrying down the stairs I “mind-called” out to Cal, whom I discovered was still with our friend. Cal knew, but he wasn’t letting on. I could feel his heart beating quickly as he tried to shield his thoughts from me.
::Come see for yourself, Pell::
I hesitated at the doorway to the infirmary. My hands were shaking, beads of perspiration had broken out on my brow and I could feel it running down the back of my neck. I had to lean against the doorway for a few seconds, and as I was just about to enter, Cal came out to me and nodded. “Is it him, Cal?”
Part 5 (Rameses)
I slept. I do not know for how long. It might have been only a few seconds or a few hours, but I know that I slept and felt my body begin to heal. I was content to rest and thought only of my son as oblivion embraced me.
And then I dreamt yet again.
I dreamed of a large, sinister castle that loomed with countless spires against a dark nightly sky, the full moon behind it casting living shadows towards me. I was walking towards it but not of my own volition. Damp pine needles found their way in between my toes as my feet kept me moving towards it. It looked strangely familiar but I could not seem to remember where I had seen this place. My eyes focused on the massive archways that guarded the main entrance. The pillars and keystones came alive, snarling and drawing me between the pillars, deeper into the depths. I could not resist. I continued on, up the steps, beneath the archways and reached the door. I pushed and I expected them to be locked. They were not. Instead, they swung open silently on well-oiled hinges. Another surprise, for I had expected them to open with loud, eerie creaks.
There was darkness beyond and the silence held its breath. I felt no fear, but walked on, knowing exactly where to step. My feet had a very fine idea of where they were going. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I could hear very faint sounds somewhere above. I was soon climbing steps, already half way up them before I realized I had been climbing. Dark corridors stretched unendingly before me, doorways gaped at me from the walls on both sides, yearning to be opened, but I passed them, certain of my destination. What awaited me there?
I found myself at the base of a tower, the stairs spiraled up above my head, far into the darkness. Once more I climbed. The faint, indistinguishable noises I had heard earlier became louder, the nearer I drew. I stopped before a wooden door, faint light filtering from beneath it’s frame, and stood there staring at it. The sounds were clearer now, much clearer, and I knew what I would find there. That ever-present little voice inside my head said not to open but turn back and leave. I opened the door, walked in and stopped.
There was a very large, canopied bed. In it were two hara. They were having aruna. Ferocious aruna. Their moans of pleasure reached me very clearly. This is what I had been hearing as I came up the stairs. Legs once more functioning, I walked nearer to the bed and stared at them and recognized the ouana har. It was Phade. The other har I didn’t immediately recognize, for his face was turned from me, long dark hair lank with sweat covering the side of his face, but he looked oddly familiar.
Then he turned.
It was me. He was me.
He looked directly at me, not in surprise or bewilderment, but just stared. And I stared back, not in horror or shock, but in complete understanding. And then I saw that his moans were not real. They were forced. He did not have to tell me. His eyes were devoid of feeling. And inside, I knew. We both knew. He had no choice. So he thought. I know better because I am a ghost from the future with the advantage of seeing with hindsight one of the pains that blacken my heart.
This was not pelki, though it might as well have been. Drugged, a slave, he had little choice. He had nowhere to go. But he did it because he was made to believe it would give him self-gratification to drown his troubles. Make him forget. With aruna, he could forget… for a little while. Perhaps even forever. But he was wrong. He hated himself more for it. Aruna was bearable. But it was not always merely aruna. Sometimes, Phade did something else… the unbearable part was always almost at the moment of climax. If I knew what came next, then why did I need to be here, forced to watch? I had been healed, hadn’t I? Why then this renewal of old pain? Another soul-cleansing?
I looked at myself on the bed, fabricating pleasure noises and feeling a mixture of pity and disgust at myself. And then I saw that the one who was me began to change appearance. He became my consort Quest and Phade become me. I became alarmed! What was Quest doing here? This was not possible. And as I stared on in disbelief, I saw that not once in all this phantom changings did the tempo of aruna fluctuate. My phantom was now ouana and Quest was soume. And once again, I was enjoying this and yet I was strangely detached. Quest on the other hand was in ecstasy.
What did all this mean?
And then as suddenly as I asked the question, I understood. In both times I had wanted only to satisfy a want to ease my depression. Quest had loved me, but I had exploited that and used him. In turn, Phade had used me. I used Quest as I myself had been used. Had it been suitably reciprocal?
“And now, you will let me be in peace, dear one,” whispered a cool voice in my ear. I knew that voice. I spun to my right and Quest was there, his arms crossed on his chest like a judgmental angel. Like me, he was a phantom. He wasn’t looking at me but at us on the bed, writhing in bliss. Finally, he faced me.
“I loved you,” he said. “and that love fed your guilt. I knew, my darling. I knew it all along and loved you despite it. Let the demon rest. Set me free.” He touched my cheek, caressing it softly and then kissed me. I tasted light. Just pure light. We parted.
“Thank you,” he murmured and took my hand that was tightly bunched in a fist. I had not noticed when I clenched it. He touched my hand and it flew open. There I saw Farbian’s feather, shining, all the colors dancing in the candlelight of this dream.
Quest smiled. “Learn the final lesson well, my love. Heal. Tell him about me.”
“I can’t…” I began in protest.
“You will.” And with that he slowly faded away.
I knew what he meant, but lacked the courage to do as he asked. Pushing the thought firmly away, I looked at the bed. The horror had returned. The “images” of the hara there had reverted back to Phade and I. The climax was just beginning and I saw Phade begin to glow around the loins while I trashed about uselessly. My arms were pinned. He was taking from me. It was a golden light trimmed with purple at the edges. It was being taken from within me. Stealing. I screamed, a hideous sound. Whether in extreme pain or in shock, I don’t know. Me, the phantom, looked on helplessly. I knew what it was. Phade was stealing my psychic essence, a part of my spirit. It was the one unbearable part of my captivity in his castle. My form on the bed was screaming horribly now and I screamed with him.
And then I awoke.
I was awake but fear kept my eyes tightly closed. Fear that, if I opened them I would still be in Phade’s castle. Forms moved about me, soothing, cajoling me to relax and to give life to my sight. I was sweating profusely and a cool hand mopped my brow, a voice reassuring me that I would be fine. I liked the voice. Farbien’s? No. But I trusted that voice nonetheless. I gulped air, opened my reluctant eyes and turned to the owner of the hand to croak my thanks…
It was Pell.
Part 6 (Addie)
He was lying on a narrow cot on the other side of the room, in the shadows, the curtains drawn to shield the glare of light from filtering through the windows. With heavy steps I made my way slowly to him and knelt down. His black hair was in a tangled and greasy mess about his face. He looked as if he had aged, but it was probably just the fact that he was emaciated. The burns on his face were still evident, but it was definitely him. My old friend. I had found him again at last.
I touched the side of his face and he stirred slightly then began to toss and turn. “He’s not fully awake yet, Pell,” Cal said. “His thoughts are in turmoil, I’ve been privy to some of them. He’s had a hard time.”
“I wonder how long he’s been wandering?”
“A long time judging by the state he’s in.”
I looked at Cal, then back down at the har squirming restlessly on the bed. I pulled the blanket up to his chin and as I did so, a small feather fluttered up into the slight breeze that was wafting in from the window. I grabbed it and held it up to the light. “This is pretty, where did it come from?”
Cal didn’t seem to know, but one of the healers came over and said. “It’s from his son.”
“Son? Is there a harling here?” I looked about the room, but only the two Palace healers and Cal and I were there.
“He’s not here now, but his spirit was earlier.”
I clutched the feather in my hand, then whispered a name. “Farbien.”
“Where did that name come from?” Cal asked me, but I was no longer in the small dark room. I had been transported on the wave of emotion coming from my old friend. At first I couldn’t make out what was happening, as a swirling mist was surrounding me. Through this mist a face appeared, another memory from my past. Phade. I shuddered. What was he doing in my friend’s mind? Then I saw what was occurring between the two hara in the bed. More than pelki; this was an abomination. Inconsumable rage filled me, I wanted to strangle Phade with my own hands. I could see my friend screaming in his dream, which was now mine, and I went to him. Putting my hands on his shoulders I tried to hold him still. Tried to stop this plundering from happening. The screaming became louder, louder.
Cal had his arms around me and I was shaking uncontrollably. It was then I realized the screaming was not in the dream., but actually coming from my friend. He struggled against the urge to wake and the two healers hurried over to soothe him. I was still shaking and used my robes to soak up the sweat on his forehead. He opened his eyes. I looked into them, and a start of recognition swept across his face. He said my name. “Pell.”
I took him in my arms and we embraced. His tears were wetting my shoulder and his hands were clutching at me. After a few moments, I began to weep as well. Emotions that had lain dormant inside of me, burst forth. We clung to each other for an eternity – but in reality it was only a few minutes. Then I pulled away from him, still holding on to his heaving shoulders. I remembered the time Flick had held me when I was first brought to Saltrock by Cal. I knew, that one day I would be able to repay his kindness to me.
“Oh Flick. Where have you been?”
“It’s a long story, Pell. What are you doing here?”
“Its a long story, Flick.” I replied, with a smile on my face and a feeling of great happiness.
I had Flick moved to an annex off my private quarters, so I could keep an eye on him and make sure he was recuperating properly. Every single one of his physical needs were taken care of. He was given his own private servant, copious amounts of delicious food, the best wine. His body was recovering, filling out again, his leg mended, his black hair lustrous and pale skin beginning to glow like pearl. It wasn’t enough. He looked lost, spending much time gazing at his sons’s feather. As expected he slept with it every night, clenched in his fingers. Sometimes I would come to his room and it was deeply touching to see him upturning all the sheets looking for the precious feather, and his subsequent sigh of relief when he found it. It was a small mystery how the delicate article remained perfect. I gave him a small crystal tray to put it on, but he never used it.
One warm sunny morning I arranged to have breakfast with him on the balcony outside his room. We sat in congenial silence, munching on fresh bread and strawberry jam and drinking strong sweet coffee, when he began to weep. For a few moments I watched him dripping tears into his coffee, then took his hand in mine.
“So many important things have been stolen from me, Pell. My partner, Quest, my only son, Farbien, but more than that. I think Phade stole part of my soul when I was his slave. I’m empty inside – barren, bereft.”
“I can’t bring your loved ones back, Flick. But maybe I can help with the other part.”
He looked at me with wide eyes, the tears flowing freely down his handsome face. He pulled his hand out of my grip, pushed his hair back and grimaced. He was very quiet for a time, staring out at the lush gardens below us. He turned to me, despair in his eyes. “What can you do, Pell? If it’s gone, it’s gone. He stole my essence, my will, my desires.”
“Share breath with me, Flick. Then maybe I will see for myself the extent of your loss.”
He looked embarrassed for a moment and flushed bright red. “You are Tigron, Pell. The most important person in the Kingdom. I couldn’t… it just wouldn’t be right.”
“Let me be the judge of that, Flick.”
I pulled him inside and dismissed his servant, then sat with him on the edge of the bed. “I’ve missed you, Flick. You were my best friend back then… so long ago. I know we have both trodden different paths, but we came from the same source. Our journeys may have been vastly different, but we have converged, here and now. Let me do this for you. Not because I owe it to you, but because you deserve it more than life itself.”
“But I’m not worthy, Pell. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’m not the same har you knew back then.”
With trembling fingers I touched the spot over his heart, and listened to its beating. “You are the same inside, Flick.” I moved my fingers to the side of his face, then cupped his chin, forcing his head closer to mine. “Relax, my dear friend… let me do what is needed.”
He closed his eyes, and brought his hand up behind my head. In one fluid motion our lips joined, and a whorl of colours swam before my eyes. His breath was cold and made me shiver, then the colours became dark and misty. I felt an infinite sadness and an overwhelming desire to weep with him. As our lips continued to press against each other’s, I became aware of a void, deep in the darkness; a profound emptiness. Phade had certainly done a good job on him. It would certainly need some Gelaming magic to cure his broken and bruised soul.
When our lips finally parted, Flick fell limply into my arms, his eyes closed and his breathing shallow. I had been too strong for him. As I laid him down gently onto the bed and covered him with the quilt I heard a soft sigh coming from behind me. I turned to see Cal standing there, hands on his hips. “What have you done to the poor har, Pell?”
“What do you think, Cal?” I snitched at him sarcastically. “You’ve probably been watching anyway.”
“Tsk tsk,” his smile had disappeared though, and in its place was a worried expression.
“He’s still in a bad way, isn’t he?”
“Worse than I thought, Cal.”
Cal came over and sat on the chair beside the bed and picked up one of Flick’s limp hands. “Are you thinking, what I’m thinking?” he whispered softly.
Cal nodded and turned his eyes to me. For a few moments I was lost in their depths, then he took hold of my hand. “Any one in mind, Pell?”
“It needs to be powerful. I can’t really think of anyone else.”
“So be it.” He replied. “Tomorrow, then. I will arrange with Rue to help us out then explain everything to Flick.”
I had never been involved in Grissecon before and the thought of joining with Cal in front of an audience had me breaking out in a cold sweat. As well as fasting for 24 hours, I was quite wretched by the time the first rays of morning light hit my window.
When I finally informed the temple priests of what was to happen, they were quite concerned, but mainly for their roof. At first I didn’t understand what they were alluding to, but after some snickering behind our backs, we were informed that our elemental power was very likely to burst through the beautiful stain glass ceiling and smash it to smithereens.
“Could we do it outside then?” Cal suggested, and after much muttering between the priests, it was finally agreed that we should attempt our magic outside in the courtyard. I was mortified. At least in the temple it would have only been the priests and Flick, who would have been privy to our conjoining. But out in the courtyard, any number of prying eyes could be witness to my nakedness. Cal sensed my tension and took me into a small chamber in the temple, and in an attempt to assuage my nervousness, began to massage my shoulders.
“Pell, you have to relax. We won’t reach the plane if you are all jittery.”
“I can’t help it, Cal. I’ve actually never performed Grissecon before. I think I’m going to be embarrassed.”
Cal laughed out loud, then reached down and tickled me under the ribs. I squirmed away from him. “By the Aghama, is that all you’re worried about? By the time I have you panting underneath me, you won’t be aware of anything.”
“Me, underneath you? I think it shall be the other way around.”
“Oh do you?” he continued to tickle me.
He did manage to relax me slightly, and by the time the priests came to cleanse us I was feeling a little calmer. The water of our bath was infused with several aromatic oils and as they seeped into my skin and via the steam into my lungs, I felt quite heady. I wondered if Cal had instructed them to add a small dose of some calmative herb to the water as well. By the time we were dried off and anointed in more oils, I felt euphoric.
Dressed in our robes of white linen, edged with gold and silver braid, our hair tied back with velvet ribbon, the three of us almost floated, hand in hand into the courtyard. The priests were in a circle, chanting, and only a few people present. Mainly our personal servants and a few of the Hegenomy hierarchy. I did not look at any of them, but was simply aware they were standing there, waiting and watching. For a brief second, I did catch Flick’s eye and he smiled at me then bowed his head. I remembered when Flick and I had witnessed a similar ceremony with Cal and Seel, many, many years ago.
Rue stepped to one side, as Cal turned to me and I melted into his embrace, then together we fell to our knees. Our lips locked and fused together, his aura embracing me as we shared breath. He was full of power and a white light that flickered slighter darker at its edges. I became aware of Cal’s slender fingers caressing my nipples and realized I was already naked. I had no recollection whatsoever of removing, or having my robe removed. It was though it just disappeared and wafted into thin air. Our bodies moved together as one, skin against skin, hair falling over our shoulders, hands moving slowly up and down. Our mouths still locked.
I became soume, falling backwards onto the soft grass of the courtyard, and opened myself completely. Cal entered me gently, and as he flowered inside, I felt a fire consuming my whole being. This heat flowed from my mouth, eyes and nose and as I stared up into the bright blue sky, I could see my power, as a stream of golden light, joining with Cal’s, dancing and melding together. Then an almighty explosion burst upwards until it seemed to reach the sun.
A small part of me remembered the priests warning about the stained glass ceiling and I could almost hear them mumbling to themselves. This awareness evaporated quickly as Cal and I, still joined bodily, seemed to become one entity; one mind, one soul. Then he was gone from me and I was sprawled on the ground, bereft and moaning.
I felt myself being lifted gently onto some cushions, then the priest surrounded me. I felt their hands inside of me, as I was milked of our mingled essences. With my face turned towards Cal I squeezed my eyes shut. Rue reverently took hold of the container.
Part 6 (Rameses)
I have no adequate words to describe the magic I had just witnessed. I saw and felt raw power beyond my imagining as Pell and Cal had performed the Grissecon. The aruna had been deeply intense, but the flare of energy that erupted from them had been nothing short of incredible. Cal’s azure white light essence melded with the golden white of Pell’s streaking piercingly through the night sky like a vertical comet. The sight of it alone was hypnotizing. Never had I seen anything so beautiful. Rue and the others around me had looked on with calm expressionless faces, but their eyes gave them away; a look that said, “Though I have seen this numerous times before, never have I seen it performed with such intensity.” My tears had fallen then for I could hold them back no longer. They were doing this for me just so I can heal. The silent tears fell more freely now and it seemed to come from within my chest. It had been a while that I had been shown so much love.
I recalled Rue telling me about this ritual yesterday and how I had felt completely touched by what Pell and Cal intended to undergo on my behalf. I found Rue to be a strange and deeply intriguing creature yet I warmed towards him instantly. I had liked Rue right from the moment I first met him on my sick bed and was he was the one that came to explain the ritual to me. At first I thought, here was one arrogant har. But after talking to him for only a few minutes, I realized what a good soul he was; glacial and utterly regal in countenance yet tragically unhappy with a haunted look in his eyes. I could understand why… there was not much room for him in Pell’s affections. That alone made me warm towards him instantly and I deduced why the hara in this glorious city adored him so much – he was a paragon of imperial class, even though he was dreadfully unhappy.
Deep down, Rue was a powerful individual and disclosed as much to me. Because the ceremony involved a vast amount of elemental power, he would play an integral part as Thiede’s representation on this plane and would be responsible for possessing the pureness required to take hold of the resulting elixir from the Tigrons’ Grissecon. He also promised to be at my side offering me strength. We talked for a long period of time, his presence and companionship helping me to deviate my mind from the hunger pangs that assaulted me as I fasted. I found that we had quite a lot in common, including a mesmerizing love for Calanthe even though we despised him for personal reasons.
I still felt an animosity towards Calanthe and on the few occasions where it could not be avoided, my conversation was filled with monosyllables and strained silences. Cal on the other hand seemed completely at ease with me and generally refused to notice my discomfort. Was I still angry at him or just couldn’t dispel my jealousy? I had to let it all go when this was done. I just had to.
My mind wandered back to how I had been thoroughly prepared for this ritual; the fasting, the cleansing, the meditations, the potions to help me focus my mind for what was to come and the herbal oils massaged into my skin to give it luster. I even had my nails trimmed, which in turn were burnt with a strange smelling incense, and my was hair brushed out a thousand, thousand times till it literally gleamed. I was inevitably reminded of my inception, countless lifetimes ago and I wondered if there would be an althaia (changling) to my soul when this was over. So much had happened to me since I became har.
I used the heels of my hands to dry my tears, holding my ever-present feather in my thumb and index finger. I watched as twelve of the priests approached the two Tigrons, each and every one of them resembling the next. They were all clad in white flowing robes with the insignia of the Tigron emblazoned on their fronts and backs, and their golden hair threw back glimmers of light from the moon as they walked in two solemn files. They lifted Pell onto a well-cushioned stretcher and my heart began to race, thinking he might have been hurt. But no, he was fine, just exhausted. Beside me, the Tigrina squeezed my hand reassuringly. I looked at him with concern etched onto my brows and he smiled. “Everything will be fine,” he said to me telepathically. I was still nervous but I gave a small nod and cast my attention back to the scene at hand. I was so glad he here with me for this ritual.
The priests had now divided themselves equally amongst my two friends, chanting strange sounds that that made electric surges around us. I saw Cal’s essence stored in a crystal decanter and was passed gingerly on a small cushion to Rue by one of the priests. A swirling mist, clearly with a life of its own writhed restlessly inside the transparent bottle, pulsing awesome energy from within it’s shadowed depths. Anxiety gripped me as Rue left my side to begin his own part of the ceremony but he turned round to look at me and flashed a comforting smile. I forced back a smile but I did feel a little better.
I had performed Grissecon before but never one of such potent power as this. The power here was on a much higher scale.
The harmonious chanting continued and I saw that Pell soon raised himself from where he lay. His eyes were focused only on Cal who stood at a distance across the courtyard, surrounded by his own battalion of priests. As they had been attended to, I noticed that never once did Cal take his eyes off his loved one, always finding Pell’s face through the throng of priests that enveloped them.
Rue meanwhile held his charge in his hands and began to sway so gently to a different chant that flowed from his lips. A throbbing turquoise light emanated from him and I saw him throw his elegant long neck backwards, all the sinuses standing out tautly. An entirely different power signature surged from him and I felt fresh tears threatening to spill.
Cal and Pell were now slowly walking towards each other, still naked, eyes locked onto one another, swaying gently to the chantings as they drew closer. Rue came forward and placed the crystal decanter containing the Grissecon on the grass, somewhere about a median point between them. The priests stepped forward and sprinkled dove feathers, some specific flower petals and the ashes of a burnt parchment of some secret sacred text were sprinkled around the decanter. I looked around me, anxious. But they all refused to meet my gaze, staring stolidly at their sovereigns in the center of the circle. Wasn’t it over yet? I struggled to remain calm.
Pell and Cal stopped within three feet of each other, Rue at their center, and all three clasped their arms at the shoulders, muttering words only known to their own lips. The Triad had been formed. And then it began.
A powerful gust of wind from the east came and rushed around them, encasing them in a whirl of dove feathers that seemed to gleam silver. Once more, their bodies gave off their signature lights and the flower petals melted into floating butterflies that shone like glow bugs. The rush of wind slowed and a melodious sound unlike any I have ever heard washed over us. A fountain of miniature stars appeared just above the sovereigns’ heads, showering down glittering sparks, which settled in mid air to form an ethereal face.
It was the Aghama.
All heads except mine bowed. I could not, dared not, move, for his gaze of soft gold light bored directly into my own. I was rooted to the spot. He gave me what could be passable for a beatific smile and the bottle at the Trinity’s feet throbbed with astonishing power. My eyes began to water but I could not blink nor tear my gaze away. I could see all of Thiede yet could not fully focus on him once, as if the whole vision refused to come together as one entity. My heart warmed with unspeakable compassion and I felt my spirit wanting to soar.
Firm but gentle hands grabbed and directed me towards where the apparition of our god glowed. They undressed me and laid me down with my feet facing the bottle so that my gaze consistently remained on Thiede. They tried to pry the feather from my fingers but I locked them and refused to release it. Thiede gave an imperceptible nod and they left it with me. I sighed in relief. The feather meant everything to me.
The air around me hummed with vibrations of heavenly static. A sweet smelling liquid was pressed to my lips and I swallowed by pure reflex. It tasted of nectar. Those astral eyes never left my face.
My body relaxed utterly and tingled all over as the fluid took effect. Then I felt it. It began as a sensation of suction in my right leg. My heart quickened and my breathing became shallow, rasping in my breast.
::( Come Flick. Be not afraid. )::
His voice throbbed with resonance around me, the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. I relaxed and let myself go. There was no more fear. My soul took leave of my physical body and stood. I finally managed to take my eyes off Thiede’s countenance and
looked behind me. I saw my body lying peacefully, not dead but in a trance. I looked at my hands and they were transparent. I looked at the three of them, Rue, Cal and Pell. They returned the look with hope in their eyes. Hope for me. Then I saw the bottle shatter noiselessly below me. I could hear no sounds in this state except for that melodious hum.
The contents of the bottle, now freed from it’s constricted place engulfed me greedily, touching the deepest point of my spirit, dancing over me in quickly darting snakes of movement. I felt myself bloom spiritually like never before. It started as a small, obscure emotion in my head and spread from there.
Thiede’s eyes called to me and I answered back with mine own. And I was absorbed into them, a feeling of falling yet flying. Falling…
Falling… until I was nothing. Nowhere.
I opened my eyes to the clearest of skies. Soft rays of a golden sun caressing the edges of the whitest of clouds. I lay in a bed of tall flowers, their perfumes filling me with a heady scent. I feared that this feeling of complete bliss might evaporate, so I lay there for eons, unwilling to move, to think.
Then curiosity got the better of me and I elected to get up and view my surroundings in more detail. It was then I realized I was swathed in swirling white cloth, wrapped in softness. A pair of simple leather sandals encased my feet. I looked into my hands and saw my feather lodged in between two of my fingers. I was glad I still had it. I gazed around. It was paradise. Indeed it was. I felt the oneness of this place and the vein of life coursing through every atom of its existence. Everything lived. Even the stones spoke. I shut my eyes and reveled in it until it began to subside.
Then I drank in the view. Multifaceted pyramids the colour of diamonds shimmered, golden in the distance. They easily dwarfed the snow-capped mountains that sat majestically at their feet. If they gave off the golden shine of their own accord or if it reflected from the warm sun, I could not tell. Lush trees, flowers and strange beautiful plants swayed in grassy glades that were flat and even, like thick rugs. Serene lakes of ultra-blue mirrored the skies and I saw a waterfall of cascading clear water. A river flowed a dozen feet away from me, filled with water that sparkled so brightly, it hurt my eyes to look. Birds, coloured like peacocks fluttered across the landscape, paying me no regard. It was nature in complete harmony, like nothing I had ever seen.
The urge to explore seized me and I began to stroll, meandering about for hours, until I saw another set of footprints. I dropped to my knees in excitement before it hit me. They were my own footprints. I had returned to the bed of flowers. The flowers were still flattened from my weight. I could also recognize the scenery. I was going in circles. “And will continue to do so until you choose to release yourself.” I scrambled up, glancing around me and only then could I see him, sitting by the riverbank. Who else? I would recognize that fiery spill of hair anywhere.
He sat with his back to me, his feet in the water, making splashes, his hair spread out endlessly around him. He was clearly enjoying himself. A dove danced along his fingers and he stroked it with his free. He whispered to it and it flew off, cooing softly.
Thiede sighed and turned to look at me properly for a moment with an amused glint in his eye, then with an eye-pleasing grace got his feet and came towards me. Somehow, I expected him to float as he approached, but no, he just walked with a fluidity that bespoke him. I continued to stare in awe.
“Walk with me,” he said, already several feet ahead. I hurried after him and caught up.
“Can you help me, Aghama?” I said eagerly.
“‘Thiede will do. Dispel with the title,” he said with an impatient wave of the hand. “‘That’s why you’re here. I will heal you, but you must also heal yourself. Look at that…” he pointed and then began a lecture about the scenery.
In time we returned to our starting point. I noticed the circle but refused to comment. He was the Aghama and knew what he was doing. I will maintain that faith. We continued walking, never tiring, and Thiede continued to give me lessons on the scenery. I tried to listen, but my mind began to wander. What was he doing? I held my tongue.
Yet again we came to our starting point. And again. And again. And again. By now, I could feel a quiet sort of anger building up in within me. Why were we going round in circles! Play time had expired and enough was enough! I stopped in my tracks confronted my tour guide, my hands rigidly clenched at my sides in vexation.
Thiede shrugged innocently, giving me nothing. “Why do YOU think were going in circles?” he asked quietly.
I was beginning to feel as if I was wasting my time for nothing and had hoped too much from him. Why the games?
“How should I know!” I erupted. “Do I have to keep going in infinite cycles just to get my soul restored? What is this?” I couldn’t hide my growing anger any longer. I was fed up and wanted answers now.
“You will keep going in circles until you learn to let go. Consider the sling and pebble. You can use as much force as you like spinning it around but until you let go, you will never hit your target”
“What are you talking about?” I raged. “Sling? Release what? I have nothing to…” and stopped, realization beginning to dawn on me. I looked at my hands. The feather? Farbien!
And then I understood. The feather. I was concentrating too much on holding on to it rather that concentrating on what it could do for me. I may even have been holding on to it more for its beauty rather than as a supposed link to Farbien. I held it out and envisioned letting it go. It disintegrated into small lights that rode on the breeze.
Thiede smiled. “See? Was that so hard? Now we may properly begin. This way please.”
“Wait! Why did I have to do that?”
“Remember what Quest told you in your visions? Let go and release your grief, your guilt. Your son tried to do all he could for you. The feather was to give you courage and strength and make you realize that he was with you, not to use as a crutch. He already lives in your heart and has always been with you. Now that you have freed his memory you can finish healing. Do you understand?” I did. Completely.
“Now try conjuring the feather,” urged Thiede.
I didn’t hesitate. I pictured the feather, holding one hand up and rubbing my fingers together as I did so. In a dazzling flare of light, the feather came. Wonderous! I tried it numerous times until dozens of them lay at my feet, gently tickling my toes, heels and instep as the breeze pushed them around on the grass.
Beside me Thiede watched, a benign smile on his face. “They have always been there, within you. You only needed to tap into yourself to bring them forth,” cut in Thiede after a while. “Right, you’ve had your fun. Let’s go. There are more things that you should see.”
We came upon a dwelling of sorts that seemed to be a recreational area. Dome structures made entirely of glass nestled nearby among the trees and I saw numerous shapes hovering above. As we got closer, I realized that the shapes were seraphic forms, hara who were angels. Some floated, others sat by the little pool laughing and completely at ease. I stood mesmerized in watching them. A perfect, idyllic setting of heaven.
“Who are they? Is this heaven?”
“Well you could say that. A part of it to be more precise. And they…” Thiede gestured with a sweep of his arm “…are all the hara you killed in your time.”
A deep sadness gripped me. So many! So much blood on my hands! I put my face in my hands, not to cry, but to hide my face in shame. “You could have told me in a more subtle manner” I finally managed in a tight voice.
“I have no time for polite euphemisms,” replied Thiede crisply. “Besides they are happy and bear you no grudge. They have found peace here and are in bliss.”
“But if this is heaven, what happened to all those I destroyed and went to hell?” I whispered. “What is hell? Hmmm? Each individual builds their own hell as it pertains to their karma and to their perception of hell. Worry not, those who are not here have been adequately reincarnated.”
Two of the angelic forms came to us and one played with my hair, twirling it in his glowing fingers before taking off again. “Why can’t I fly like them?” I asked curiously, my heart already feeling lighter at what Thiede had told me.
“Because your light which is your spirit has been dimmed by Phade, and that, is what you’re here to remedy,” he murmured.
“Then if my spirit is the wings to my soul, will you take my broken wings and heal them that I may soar once more?” I implored to him gravely.
“I cannot do that unless you absolve yourself from your crimes. I have already absolved you of them. It’s up to you to do the rest.”
I looked at the hara around me and was silent for a while. “They have nothing to forgive of me. I only have myself to forgive. If such is the case, then I am ready.”
It felt so true.
“Good,” smiled Thiede. “You learn quick. Come then.”
He cupped the nape of my neck with his cool hand and shared breath with me. I tasted not just a thousand different tones of light but every virtue of wholeness known in the universe; compassion, honesty, humility, patience, life, death, power.. .it went on and on until my essence swam with it. The glory of it all threatened to absorb me utterly. The Aghama released me after only a few seconds but to me it seemed an eternity. Any more and I might have been lost forever.
I expelled a breath of air and was puzzled to see a silvery-blue mist rush from my lips. My throat and tongue tasted of mercury and I felt slightly dizzy. The mist was feeding upon itself to become larger and soon shaped itself to become a living shape. It was alive, changing, evolving, becoming more solid until it manifested into a form I could recognize. It was me. An exact duplicate of me. I instinctively knew what to do. I only had to touch him and him to touch me.
“Be renewed, Flick,” said Thiede, holding a coil of thin silver rope in his hand. My duplicate soul and I touched and shared breath. As we did, we became one, joined as one entity and exploded in a roar of astral energy. For a time, we stood like that, partly joined at the lips, limbs and torso.
I was dimly aware of the Aghama wrapping the silver coil about us, murmuring a language known to only himself. When he was done, he said: “You are one with yourself, fulfilled in mind, body and spirit. No outside force in the universe can ever separate you. I have bonded thee together till the end of time and beyond with your own silver thread. It is done.”
And with that, I felt complete. I closed my eyes and colours swam before my inner eye. I was content. I was whole again.
I opened my eyes to see Cal, Rue, Pell and the priests looking into my face. They all looked at me anxiously and I smiled. I was back in my body and for the first time in decades’ it truly felt like mine.
“How long was I gone?” I asked. My voice sounded strong, clear.
“Less than an hour but long enough to be well and for the universe itself to weep for joy,” murmured Pell, his eyes dancing happily. I lifted one arm up and conjured my son’s feather and in a shower of soft lights, it appeared as I expected it to.
Part 7 (Addie)
For a few moments I lay back on the cushions and breathed in the warm air, with its aroma of sweet flowers. I was exhausted, but elated. Our Grissecon had been more successful that I hoped it would be. As I opened my eyes I saw Cal’s face, full of love for me. I smiled at him.
I sat up, then walked over to him with my arms out. Stopping three feet away we waited for Rue to join us, then we linked our arms together. This was not over yet, the most important part was to come. Cal asked if I was all right, and I whispered to him that I was a little sore. He laughed at me and told me not to be a big baby. Then we became serious again, staring into each other’s faces and joining our minds and souls.
As our auras flew heavenward once more, I became aware of Thiede’s presence. Always the one for dramatic entrances, he was floating above us, intermingled with our converging lights. Up until now, I hadn’t been sure how our magic was going to help Flick. But now I knew. Thiede would take him in hand, guide him and lead him down the correct path.
I glanced up at my mentor and he smiled at me, then I saw him look towards Flick, who was in complete awe of our illustrious Aghama. The priests guided Flick over to us. I wanted to take him in my arms and reassure him that everything would be fine, as he looked confused and a little afraid. His clothes were taken from him and he was laid gently on the grass at our feet.
I wished I could join him on his journey, but I had to stay behind. This was Flick’s adventure, not mine. For a few seconds I became aware of his soul, floating out of his body, then it disappeared, Thiede travelling with him.
Two priests came up behind us and helped us put our robes back on, then we sat cross-legged on the ground, still facing each other. “Do you think Thiede will heal him?” Cal asked me.
“No, I think he will heal himself.” I replied. We continued to sit facing each other until after half an hour or so, I had to stand up and stretch my legs. I pulled Cal up as well and he arched his back and sighed. “How long do you think they’ll be?”
“As long as it takes, I suppose.”
“You look tired, my dear Tigron, did I wear you out?”
“You, wear me out? Never!” I smiled at him, then kissed him on the cheek.
With a warm camaraderie, we found a shady spot under the only tree in the courtyard and rested our backs. Rue seemed lost in his own thoughts, sitting quietly just a little way away from us. Cal and I held hands and reminisced about our time with Flick. We hadn’t really done this before, just talked about the time we had spent together with Flick, way back when we were just ordinary hara. I discovered that Cal had been secretly jealous of my close relationship with him, and of the one time we had shared aruna. When I gently reminded him that he had just performed Grissecon with Seel in front of the whole settlement, he grumbled. “But that was important, we were only doing it to affect a cure against the disease.”
“Ah, so you are saying you didn’t enjoy it?”
He grinned back at me. “I didn’t say that.”
As we laughed quietly together we became aware of a roaring sound, then flickering lights appeared over Flick’s prone body. He was back and we rushed over to kneel beside him. As his eyes opened he grinned at us.
“How long was I gone?”
“Less than an hour, but long enough to be well, and for the universe itself to weep for joy.”
Flick sat up and his eyes glazed over for a second or two, then in a shower of soft lights, his feather floated in front of his face. He grinned again. Cal and I both drew him to us, hugging him, almost squeezing the breath out of him, then he began to weep. Tears of joy and relief coursed down his face, as we helped him to stand. The priests lifted him onto the stretcher, covered him up and whisked him inside the temple.
Cal and I bathed together, then refreshed, we sought out Flick. He was sitting on some cushions, surrounded by three priests, who were feeding him small morsels of food and holding a goblet of wine for him. I laughed. He looked so at home being waited on. He blushed slightly when we entered, then his demeanor changed slightly. He suddenly looked uncomfortable.
“It’s all right, Flick. You deserve a little bit of pampering after all you have been through.”
“It’s not that, Pell.” I could see he was trying to avoid looking directly at Cal.
Cal noticed as well and nudged me in the side. “What’s the matter with him?”
“Sshhh! Why don’t you go back to your rooms for a while, Cal. See what Rue’s up to, or maybe bother Ashmael for a while. I think Flick wants to talk to me alone.”
I told the priests to leave us alone and sat down next to Flick. I watched as he laid back on the cushions, his breathing slow and steady, his hair splayed out around his head. “I’m tired, Pell, I need to talk to you, but…” he had actually fallen asleep in mid-sentence, so I covered him up with a few of the loose covers, turned off the light and left him to sleep. This would probably be the deepest, sweetest sleep he had had for years.
When I returned to my room, I saw Cal had crashed out on my bed, so with a shove I pushed him onto his side, lay down next to him and fell into a peaceful slumber as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I was shivering when I awoke the next morning, a little miffed that neither of my servants had covered me up during the night. Cal had also disappeared. Grumbling and moaning at my stiff limbs, I called Atttica, berating him for leaving me to freeze during the night and ordering a big pot of sweet coffee to warm me up. I was on my third cup, feeling it perking me up considerably when there was a quiet knock at my door. I screamed out for Attica again, but he seemed to have disappeared into the bowels of my apartment. Probably fuming at being told off. I went to the door myself and saw Flick standing there, looking slightly embarrassed and nervous. I bade him to enter and poured him some coffee.
I could see his hands shaking as he lifted the cup to his lips. “Are you feeling unwell?”
“No, I’m quite refreshed thank you, Pell. But there is something I would like to tell you. Do you have some time to sit and listen to my story?”
“Of course, Flick. Just let me arrange to cancel a few meetings and I’ll be able to sit with you all morning.”
Attica finally deigned to come back into the room to check on me and the state of the coffee, so I gave him a list of engagements to postpone. Within a few minutes, my other servants arrived with a sumptuous breakfast of fresh fruits, hot bread, cereals and juice. “Help yourself, Flick. Now, where do you want to begin?”
I settled back on a comfortable chair with a plate of foot on my lap.
“Saltrock is where it began, Pell. My descent into despair. You and Cal were gone Seel was distressed and ranting about what happened to Orien…” Flick stopped for a few seconds, then regained his composure. “I was distraught, alone and angry when I trundled off, leaving everything that had ever meant anything to me, behind. I travelled aimlessly for a while, learning to become a killer, mainly for my own self defense, then fell in with the wrong crowd, so to speak.”
“The wrong crowd, Flick?” I looked at him, wondering who he could have meant. The answer shocked me to the core.
“Ponclast!” He physically shuddered when he said his name and so did I.
‘It wasn’t something I was proud of, Pell, but I felt needed with them and I had become a fierce warrior. Your Gelaming soldiers are a force to be reckoned with.”
“Were you there, Flick, when Fulminir fell?” I hated the thought of him being in that place.
“I escaped, Pell. I could tell Ponclast wasn’t going to survive. Most of the deserters went South. I went North and joined the Uigenna. It was kind of like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. But some good came out of it. My companion, Quest for one. Our child Farbien for another. Quest was something special, Pell. Something very special.”
Flick look sad for a moment and I presumed it was merely that he was still grieving for his loved ones. But there was something else. “Flick, I’m sorry about them, I know only too well what its like to lose a loved one. But I’ve been lucky I suppose, for I got him back.”
“Pell, before I go any further with my story, I think I need to talk to Cal.”
“Of course, Cal would be interested to hear what you have to say I’m sure. I mean he was once with the Uigenna. But aren’t you still angry with him for what he did to Orien?”
“Oh yes, I am, Pell. But I feel I have to explain something to him about Quest. I feel he may just have a perfectly good reason to be angry with me in return.”
“Can I be privy to what you are alluding to, Flick? Why would Cal be angry with you? He hasn’t seen you for years. You never had any problems with each other in Saltrock – to my knowledge anyway.”
I could see Flick almost squirming in his seat, and small beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. Something was really worrying him. I didn’t have the heart to pry into his thoughts. Whatever it was would come out soon, I was sure.
“Pell, will you stay with me when I tell Cal?”
“Yes, of course, but will you give me an idea of what this is about?”
Flick hung his head and began to wring his hands. “Well… you see, Pell… Quest was Cal’s son.”
Part 9 (Rameses)
I found the courage to look up at Pell as I said it. Pell reacted well, I’ll give him that. He was after all, the Tigron. He didn’t gape, or glare at me with shocked eyes, or scream obscenities. How I prayed that he had. Any sort of reaction other than that which he now gave. He just looked at me in regal silence. After what passed like several minutes, he sighed deeply and rubbed his eyes. A gesture of extreme relief? Anger? Weariness? I do not know. I couldn’t bear to look at him any more so I hung my head again. I had found the courage to tell him at last and I will damn the consequences. They were my friends. They had the right to know.
“So that is what you’ve been hiding from us, is it?” Pell’s voice hit me suddenly. Cool, measured and controlled yet still hitting me like a slap.
“Yes!” was all I could manage. Speech had deserted me. And the hard part was still yet to come. I had to tell Cal.
“How is Rue? I haven’t had a chance to thank him properly.” I managed, trying to dispel the silence.
“He’s fine.” answered Pell, a little too carefully. “He’s gone to open some new academy and cover for me at the Hegemony. Don’t change the subject.” He gazed at the table for a while, obviously in thought.
“Oh Flick. Dear sweet Flick,” Pell sighed again. “I knew you were keeping something of importance from me but I preferred to respect the privacy of your thoughts and let you tell me in your own good time. I’d been speculating on whether it was the manner of death of your family, or you wanting to talk about Orien without Cal around, or Phade’s gruesome soul-stealing games. But this!” He shook his head.
Then in one fluid movement, he leaned forward, placed his elbows on his knees and made his fingers form steeples at his temples.
With dread, I realized he was calling Cal. My hands began to sweat afresh and a shiver coursed through me. The moment of truth had arrived.
Cal bounded in shortly, beaming smiles and looking excited. “Pell darling, the Gimrah are sending Netaddah’s foal later today! He’s ready for me to ride now! He must be massively huge! How long ago was he born? Five or six years? Such a cute yearling when I last saw him! By Thiede, I must be going senile, I can’t remember when he was born! Speaking of which, he should know. I better ask him. Ah, Flick! Looking much like the naughty cherub I remembered! Feeling refreshed? Come take a ride with me in the evening. I’ll show you around.”
“Cal!” began Pell.
Calanthe wasn’t listening. He came towards me, grinning his spellbinding smile, beautiful as ever. “What do you think we should name my new horse? You must see him! Bred specially for yours truly! They took the best two Faraldiennes and…”
“What? I’m explaining the ancestry of the bloody animal and you’re…”
As I watched them both, my courage literally seeped from me. Cal was in such a jubilant mood and it felt callous of me to bring this up. “No Pell,” I mumbled uncertainly, my eyes pleading.
“No, what?” frowned Cal. “You won’t take a ride with me? You’re scared of horses now? It’s a piece of cake, stop whining! Besides, we have much to discuss.” Cal reached for a bunch of grapes from the fruit bowl.
“Exactly, there is much to discuss,” Pell said quietly.
“Cal, Quest was your son!” I blurted out.
Cal went very still. Very, very, still. The bunch of grapes in his fingers froze on their journey to his lips. He stared at me uncomprehendingly. I couldn’t bear to look him and stared instead at his shadow on the floor. I saw it move and mimic his gesture of returning the fruit to the bowl. There was an electrifying silence. Once more, I waited for the outburst. I assumed that he and Pell were now looking at each other, speaking wordlessly with their eyes, deciding how to deal with this.
The first sound he made was a forced, bitter laugh.
“I suppose half the blond haired hara in the world think they are related to me, so what else is new?”
“Its the truth!” I protested.
“You know it’s not!” he hissed, cutting me off. I felt him loom over me but I refused to raise my head. For a fleeting moment I thought he’d hit me. “Is this the part where you get to tell me how much he looked like his father and how lovely he was and how I should be proud that I had such a fine son? Huh? This is still about Orien isn’t it? You won’t let it be. Instead you sit there and drone out a fantasy about your consort being my son! Is that supposed to annoy me or give me a bout of mirth? I can give you both reactions if you prefer, which would you like first?”
“Neither!” I grated, lifting my head to face him squarely. His words had stung and I could feel my uneasiness turning to anger. For a time, it was about Orien but now I knew it wasn’t. “Its about letting you know what you should.”
“But of course it is! You’re here to remind me of what I was. And why don’t you add all the legends of me being a drunk and a drug-addict while you’re at it?”
“Shut up, Pell.”
“You have to listen to him! This is not…”
“I said, shut up!” His voice was quiet and deliberate. He smiled cunningly and sat down. “Now that I’m cozily seated, start this from it’s genesis so that I can – how did you put it? Know what I should. This could possibly make for some very entertaining folklore.”
I glared at him. “You have no right to insult me or the memory of my consort!”
“Then you have no right to insult my intelligence. Evens?”
“Cal, I want you to stop this nonsense! Listen to his side of things and then judge him!” thundered Pell. Cal looked at him as if humoring a child.
“Ahh! I seem to recall that a certain somebody wouldn’t have even considered giving me a second’s doubt before lopping off my head. If he had been quick enough to snare me, that is. I’m certain I would have made a nice trophy over the mantle place in his Uigenna Palace. Found your calling pretty easily, don’t you think?”
“That was uncalled for, you brute,” sneered Pell.
I had had enough. I stood up.
“Cal, forget I said anything. It was a joke, the same way you have always seen everything and everyone around you. Even me.”
I fled from the room. Or at least I tried to. Pell caught me before I got to the doors. I was already weeping and had no idea when the tears had started. Pell wrapped me in his arms, saying nothing as I cried bitterly, my face buried in his robes. He was still the same Cal, never seeing the point of me. Pell and I were like that for a time, me soaking up the front of his robes, him crooning softly into the top of my head.
Finally, my tears abated but I didn’t want to move. His arms were comfortingly warm and felt safe. He understood completely and did not make the slightest movement to try and release me. This was the Pell I always remembered. He was Call’s now, as it always should have been. Suddenly, I pushed myself from him, protesting that I was fine but he grasped my arms firmly.
“Sure?” he asked softly. I nodded. “You will stay.” It wasn’t a question. It was a request. “He needs to know. It is inevitable. He just does not want to imagine how you must have treated Quest because of him.” His voice was so soothing. How could I refuse?
“Of course.” I replied hoarsely. He released me and I could feel my face still hot from my bawling. I turned to look at Cal, sitting in the same chair. I couldn’t see him clearly, for my eyes were itchy and wet but I could see him staring at his limp hands on his lap.
I walked slowly to where he sat and stopped in front of him. He looked up then. His face was gray and there was pain etched into every pore. He stood up and embraced me. No words were necessary. We were friends again.
Part 10 (Addie)
I held Flick’s trembling body for what seemed like eons, trying to calm him and at the same time glaring in anger at Cal. Cal’s mind was in turmoil. He knew Flick wasn’t lying, but he couldn’t quite work out who could have been Quest’s hostling. Whoever it had been, the two of them had apparently been completely unaware of their making of life.
::Cal, just listen to him. Flick was our friend, *is* our friend. Why would he lie to you?::
Cal turned away from me, and I shouted into his mind. ::Don’t walk away from this, Cal. You have walked away from enough things in your life.::
He turned back to me, as I continued to hold Flick’s trembling body close to mine, and kept trying to reassure him that everything would be all right. Cal was on the brink – he would either scream at us both and walk out of the room, or break down and weep. I couldn’t quite tell. Now I was trying to reassure him as well.
This was becoming quite taxing on my mind. Flick’s unexpected revelation had given me a jolt. I remembered back to my short tryst with Caeru and how I had left him, completely unaware of the pearl he was hosting. It was entirely possibly, that in the early days, two coupling hara could have been caught out. Cal had always been highly evolved, it had just been natural to him.
::Cal, just listen to Flick’s story, please. He has been through hell and come back to us.::
Cal turned his eyes to mine, they were full of fire. I almost winced. Then they softened, and a small smile formed on his lips. ::You’re right of course, Pell. But you are always right, aren’t you?::
::Stop being sarcastic, brat, and listen to our friend::
He nodded in acquiescence, just as I released Flick. They turned to each other.
“You look a bit red in the face,” Cal said, his voice shaking and we both smiled. “Come out onto the balcony and tell me about my son. Tell me everything. Consider it as payment for a dowry long past due ”
We went outside and sat, the view calming me and the breeze cooling my swollen face. He watched me and waited expectantly. I didn’t know where to begin. Some of my tale, I had already spilled forth to Pell but now I had to tell it all in its entirety. Every single detail had to be told. I looked out over the marble railings at nothing in particular until Cal leaned forward and covered my hand in one of his.
“Flick, its all right. That’s why Thiede healed you,” he murmured.
I looked at him and smiled wanly. “You are right.” I took a deep breath and began.
“When you returned to Saltrock and brought us news of Pell’s death, I was deeply devastated but you were in an even worse state, so I had no time to wallow in my grief. Then came the night that you and Orien had your argument and you went for him. Lucky enough Seel and I were there to hold you off. In the end, you left to go to your rooms, refusing Seel’s offer of comfort so I ended up crashing out with him that night.
“The next morning, I got up before Seel, grabbed myself some cigarettes and had a smoke in front of the house. After a while, I thought I’d go check on you and was surprised to find your room empty. I dashed in to go tell Seel when the news came – Orien was hanging by his guts in the temple. I guess the full extent of my grief hit me full in the face then and I just became an empty husk. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t live – nothing. Pell was dead, Orien was dead, you were gone. Seel tried his best for me, comforting me as best as he could but I was dead inside.
“After a few days, I could not stand the thought of being in Saltrock any more. Everything and everyone reminded me of my lost friends and the horror of your deeds. So I left.”
I poured myself a glass of water while Cal produced a case of premium quality cigarettes and lit one for me. He had read my mind that I needed one. I smiled my thanks and continued:
“I just stuffed some money in a pouch, grabbed some ammunition and took a horse. I did leave a letter for Seel but it didn’t say much: ‘Hey Seel, I can’t take this any more so I’m fucking off.’ Basically, that’s all it said. I invented an alias for myself, wandered like a nomad for a few weeks, living rough in some of the deserted cities and cursing your name in agonized screams like a wounded banshee. In time, I got to hear of the Varrs slowly engulfing the continent. I didn’t want any part of their madness and saw it as an excuse to leave Megalithica behind. I felt that the further I could run from my grief, the better I’d feel. Wrong!
“I decided to sell my horse and grab a ship to the Eastern lands. How ironic that I was fleeing from what I would eventually become. I made my way to the Garridan because I had heard of their reputation for making toxins potent enough to kill hara. I was feeling suicidal and welcomed the possibility of ending it once and for all. Of course when I arrived there, I didn’t have the heart to carry out my wishes so instead, I found a farm and worked there as a farm hand to earn my keep.
“It wasn’t long before I started learning how to be an assassin for I could feel my nomadic soul getting restless once more. If I was to wander the wilderness again, it would be to my advantage to learn all aspects of survival. I learnt pretty quickly and elevated my caste twice. I was an apt pupil and had no respect for life. Damn it, I didn’t even have respect for my own life any more. Maybe deep inside, I was trying to hone myself into being a killer so as to disembowel you whenever I saw you.”
Cal grimaced and I shrugged apologetically.
“I became wild, reckless and just did not give a fuck any more. I had nothing, wanted nothing other than sustenance funds and I felt my mind crumbling. There were many times I cursed the day I became har and many days I wished I could have my friends back.
“After almost three years, I was bored and needed to move on. I had gleaned enough tricks from the Garridan and it was time to flee from my troubles once again. I wandered Jaddayoth briefly but they are such a vastly diverse set of people that I decided to give them a wide berth and kept to the countryside for many months. That was when news came that the Varrs were looking for more mercenaries to join their ranks. They were offering mouth-watering pay and I thought, why not? I needed to get some money anyway and would gladly sell my Garridan skills to the highest bidder. All my moral scruples were now non-existent and I didn’t give it a second thought about jumping onto a ship to return to Megalithica.
“I joined up with the Varrs, secured yet another alias and held my own pretty well. My time living in the East plus my training with the Garridan had honed my fighting skills to a sharp edge and this quickly gained me the respect of the other hara. I actually spent a lot of time wondering about Seel and whether I would be amongst the batch of forces selected to run Saltrock into the dust. As much as I liked to tell myself I didn’t care about anything, I knew deep down that going against my old tribe would trouble me. But I couldn’t face that possibility and convinced myself that I would cross that bridge when I came to it.
“Then came the news that you were at Forever, fucking Terzian. Rage consumed me and numerous times, I was tempted to find my way there under some pretext of running an errand and doing away with you with a mixture of poisons. But one thing after the other kept diverting my attention and in frustration, I asked to be transferred further north to Ponclaust’s branch of forces. If I could not get to you to rip your throat out, then I had to get a hundred mile radius between us.”
Cal shook his head ruefully. “It’s so sad that you were so near to me and I couldn’t sense you. Believe me, there were times in the earlier days at Forever that I would have welcomed death from any source.”
I smiled reassuringly and lit myself another cigarette. “I’m glad I didn’t go ahead with it. Just as well that I didn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself afterwards. Anyway, it was while at Fulminir that I heard that Pell was alive and that the Gelaming were planning to advance on us. They had a king. He was called Tigron and his name was Pellaz-har-Aralis. Pell was alive. The Gelaming made no secret of their coronation of a new monarch to bring peace and unity to our new race. Shock that it was my old friend hit me first, then anger and confusion. It was a hard pill to swallow. For weeks I tried to sort my mind out. How is it that he is alive? Had you been mistaken? If it was the same Pell that was now leader of the feared Gelaming, why hadn’t he come looking for me? Did anybody care about me? Pell was a king, you were in Terzian’s palace and I heard that Seel was in league with the Gelaming. Everyone was doing well for himself while I, sweet old Flick, was on opposite sides living the harsh life of a confused soldier. The desertion of some Varrs to the other side made my mind up for me. I had joined in the execution of some of these dissidents and it actually made me sick. It was then I made up my mind. I fled to the Uigenna.
“Running to them was the smartest thing to do in the circumstances. The stupid ones fled south to our enemies and they were almost always caught. The shrewd ones like me weighed the pros and cons and decided that the Uigenna were our best bet.
“So once more, my urge for a nomadic existence overwhelmed me and I signed up with your old tribe. Never had fate dealt me a more ironic set of cards. It was there I met Quest.
“The day I got to the outer settlements of the Uigenna, I witnessed fresh set of atrocities. They were playing a hunting game using captives caught from surrounding towns they had raided. The slaves, humans and hara alike, were given a few hours head start on foot and would then be chased down by their tormentors on horseback. If they made it to a designated finishing point, they were spared. Survivors, if hara, were given the choice of joining the Uigenna or having their hands chopped off to ever prevent them from bearing arms. Human survivors, which was very rare, were killed outright. There were six of us that turned up on their doorsteps, all veterans of the Varrish army. We were drafted into this wild game and five of us survived.
“Quest was reputed to be the most bloodthirsty of these hunters and actually lived in the main city but loved to come out there for the sport. For some curious reason, he took it upon himself to be on my tail the whole time but I kept out-witting him until the very end. Afterwards, he just glared at me and left. I didn’t see him again for many weeks. In that time, I was initiated and welcomed into the clans because I convinced them that I was a Varr and worthy enough to be an Uigenna. Being that they were a tribe that also specialized in poisons and toxic potions, my Garridan skills were in high demand and once again, I tore up the ranks in no time.
“Very swiftly, I recognized the disastrous weaknesses in their power structure. I don’t know if it was the urge to be as ‘uccessful’ as you, Pell and Seel but I found myself wanting a taste of power and it was not long before I became a top-ranking warrior among them. And then I began going on campaigns and realized that every time I went on raids in Quest’s team, we made a formidable duo. He began courting me but I refused to even acknowledge his existence. Time passed and I conditioned my mind to disregard any tracking of dates, days or months. Everyday seemed like the last. Then one evening while at one of the taverns I normally frequented, I met Veidore.”
I heard Cal take a sharp breath and watched him lean forward, put his head in his hands and sigh. I felt for him then. Felt for all of us. “I remember him,” he managed dully. “Sandy coloured hair that always looked tangled no matter how much he combed it, with gray liquid eyes. Oh shit, he was the one! Shit! Oh, fuck! Please, don’t stop. Carry on. Tell me the rest of it.”
Part 11 (Addie)
I watched them walking out onto the balcony, feeling suddenly alone and left out. But I knew this was something just between the two of them. I wandered over to the window and stared outside, just thinking about all that had happened in my life. Would they let me be privy to their discussion? I wondered. “Damn it!” I cursed out loud, startling a small bird that had just landed on the windowsill. I let out a little laugh as it fluttered off in a flurry of black and white feathers.
I wandered back into the room and found a comfortable chair. Flopping down on it I made a decision to listen in on their conversation. It was wrong of me I know, but when have I ever admitted to not being nosy. There should be no secrets in this place, especially between Cal, Flick and myself. So, I was going to eavesdrop – so what!
I shut my eyes and attuned myself to their voices and thoughts. They were talking softly, and the slight breeze was blowing their voices in the opposite direction, but if I slowed down my breathing and concentrated, I could hear every word they were saying.
I heard my name mentioned. Flick was hurt that I hadn’t come looking for him when I had been made Tigron. It was my turn to wince. Why hadn’t I? I remember now the promise I had made to myself, when Cal and I left Saltrock, so many years ago, that I would search out and find Flick again. What had stopped me? I let my mind wander, just half-heartedly listening to Flick’s story. Had it been Thiede? Had he purposely dimmed my memories of my old friends? I know he had tried to make me forget Cal.
Then I realised that in all my years I had never once thought of Flick. It hadn’t been until he was brought into our fold, damaged, bruised and hurt that the memories flooded back of our friendship. ::By the Aghama:: I shouted to Thiede. ::How could you have done that to me?::
He didn’t answer – but I could tell he was listening to me. ::Coward:: I screeched again. Anger was bubbling up inside of me. I felt a slight tremor in the room, then saw a flash of light in front of my eyes. ::Well!:: Thiede’s flickering form was in front of me and I stood up, with my fists clenched at my sides.
“Calm down, Pell.” He was speaking in a normal voice, which startled me at first.
“Was it you, Thiede? Who else did you make me forget?”
“Would it have done you any good to remember, Pell? Would you have spent your life searching for everyone? Cal was enough. He took up most of your dreaming thoughts, after all.”
“You are a bastard!” Turning away from him, I could hear a low snigger.
::Go away:: I didn’t feel like talking to him any more. At least I hadn’t purposely forgotten about Flick. Although that thought didn’t really make me feel much better. I vowed to explain this to Flick when he was through with Cal.
I strained my ears again and realised they had stopped talking. It was more than I could bear, I had to venture out onto the balcony to see how they had fared.
“Veidore and I got talking and in a drunken stupor announced that he was Quest’s hostling. With a poker face, I listened to how you had maintained a short fling with him during your days in the tribe but had turned your affections back to Zack in no time. Your then reputation for promiscuity was legendary. A couple of weeks later, you and Zack are driven from the tribe, nobody knew why. It was then that Veidore started noticing some changes to his system and in panic, he fled. At that time, the Uigenna were still trying to get their heads round to the concept of procreation but that did not prevent that rare conception taking place now and again. A few were killed outright by their comrades out of fear that the swollen stomach might be a new disease fatal to Wraeththu-kind. The more enlightened ones knew it to be reproduction but were weary of condoning it because they believed themselves to be lacking in the necessary ‘magic’ to assist in the birth. Thus, Veidore did what most hara in his position did. He fled.
“Luckily for him, he came across a small tribe that were more experienced than the Uigenna in these kind of matters, having being taught by one of those wandering Orien-like shaman. He had the harling and named him Quest as a sort of reminder of the labour involved. He actually thought he would perish but he was fortunate. After a couple of years, the urge to return to the tribe became too overpowering to suppress any more, for tribe ties can be intensely strong. Adding to this homesickness was the news reaching him of the Uigenna now understanding the process of making new life amongst themselves. He returned to them within the month.
“Your son Quest grew up as wild as the others but with a cunning streak and a penchant for blood. Blond, steely gray eyes and every bit as lovely as you, he was quickly earmarked as a future leader by the council. Veidore cleverly kept your identity as his father secret for Quest’s safety. Your name was still a taboo on the lips of any Uigenna and with your ever-present accomplice Zack, both of you were highly wanted hara in countless tribes. Quest didn’t find out about you till after his Feybraiha and by then, he couldn’t give a shit. He just kept doing what he loved best – being wild. By the time of my arrival in the tribe, Quest was already a known legend.
“Of course, after this revelation, I began giving Quest the time of day, both of us delving into an exaggerated and highly flirtatious courtship in which everyone knew what the end result would be. But my intentions were immoral. Agreed, Quest was a beast in his own right, but I wanted him not for lust but because I could act out my pain on someone that was yours. He was a consolation prize of sorts and I wanted to hurt him in sating my desire for vengeance on you. Deep down, I knew there was another reason for this. I had loved you and you never even noticed me. Now I could have a scion of your own flesh and blood profess endless love to me and have him at my bidding. It was cruel, I know, but my anger was still controlling me then.”
I stopped my narration and stared out at the gardens below us, recalling to memory all the craziness I dished out on my consort. When my voice came again, it didn’t sound like my own. I felt detached as I droned out the remainder of my tale.
“It was a platonic relationship in a way, generally on my part. He adored me but I considered him to be just a killing partne, for we made an impressive duo in battle. The rest of the tribe thought we were chensa but it was all a farce. The aruna was ferocious and I loved it because I wanted to fuck his brains out, seeing you in him every time we were together and wanting to hurt him. I acted out all my rage during those sessions, sometimes asking him to perform chaitra and pelcia for me so I could imagine I was tormenting you. Quest knew this but complied with my sick games anyway because he was too grateful to have me as his consort and would do anything to continue holding my attention. It was cruel, I know, but at that time I didn’t care, didn’t want to care. I was having my revenge and wallowed in the luxury of it.”
I noticed that my voice shook and the tears were in my eyes again. I wiped them with the back of my hand and took a few breaths to steady my nerves. I looked at my friend, expecting to see hate and resentment in his countenance. I saw only quiet compassion. Cal looked sad but not one iota of anger was on his features. I did not want to imagine what he would have been thinking right at this time and the war of nerves that must have been raging within his chest.
“Around that time, the then leader, Lurdian was killed in a brutal war with one of our Uigenna sister tribes. This did not really come as a surprise because ever since the Varrs fell to the Gelaming, the Ugienna tribes had constantly warred against themselves.
“Being that Quest and I were power-hungry and were in a solid position in the hierarchy, we capitalized on the squabbles for control, swiftly gained loyalties and seized power. I was made over-all chief and Quest my second in command, his choice really. We maintained a firm gasp on control for years and in that time, I became Pyralis. I had to be ruthless so as not to seem weak and I could handle that because I was just blanking my mind out never to think about the bloodshed we brought to tribes around us. I was a killing machine without any feelings. I denounced the existence of the Aghama, forbidding any of my people to have his name on their lips and I killed for the sheer exultation of seeing death. I also discovered a hidden skill for enacting unspeakable torture. My loyal followers adored me for this.
“I kept tabs now and again about the happenings around the world, Almagabra in particular. Sometimes, I wondered if Pell would ever come looking for me and in many ways, I was glad he didn’t. It would have been a Herculean task finding me anyway, for I had changed my name numerous times since leaving Saltrock. We were now two different worlds apart and that was just the way our destinies had played out.
“In time, the tribe members began demanding that I have an heir. I hadn’t wanted one for fear that should the time come for me to move on again, I would not have anything or anyone tying me down. Quest loved me unconditionally but I did not love him and I knew that the time would come for us to draw a line to the boundaries of our relationship.
“Eventually, when the pressures to produce an heir became intolerable, I gave in so as not to lose my position. Quest had Farbien and I never thought I would love anybody so much in my life. He was the light of my life, the one thing that seemed so right and normal. I adored him to the heavens. It was after Farbien was born that I began to treat Quest with the dignity and respect he deserved, and in my own way I grew to love him deeply. I realized then how special he was to me. We weren’t exactly chensa, but something very close to it.
“Fifteen years later the troubles started and thus began the first steps in the chain reaction that finally rendered the Uigenna extinct. Younger, ambitious hara wanted to take my seat. They had noticed that I was losing my taste for madness and wanted fresh blood in. I wouldn’t stand down and neither would they, so a civil war ensued. Being a warlike people, it was a vicious war. Farbien and Quest are killed within days of each other and I was inconsolable. That was enough to do me in for I had no more stomach for the fighting. Weak in mind and body, my enemies pounced and I hadn’t the strength to hold them off. I was badly injured but was still able to make a run for it. It’s then that I traveled to Phade for help and it turned out to be the latest addition to my long chain of lifetime mistakes.
“Phade made me into an aruna slave, drugging me with an addictive herb that made me consistently weak and in perpetual hallucination. But the worse part, as you both know, was his working of some mysterious Grissecon on me that stole bits of my soul. I was well treated but I couldn’t escape not only because he kept me drugged and under watch, but because he had convinced me that there was nothing for me to live for anymore. He worked tirelessly on my grief and self-guilt, making me utterly malleable and I believed him. My mind slowly disintegrated and I became a living husk of flesh. The barbarian had disappeared and in its place stood a hopeless wreck. A decade is more than enough time for a savage like me to retrogress to far beyond what I had been at Saltrock.
“I was there for several years living in persistent hell until I finally made up my mind to go to Immanion and find Pell, regretting bitterly for not doing so earlier. I had heard that even you were now Tigron. That had been my final determining factor. If you could be Tigron after all you had done and still be loved by Pell, then it was to Immanion I had to go. I spent months planning an escape and when the chance came, I seized it.
“There was a group of merchants that visited Phade’s Tower every year, bringing all sorts of merchandise to sell. Most of the time, I was locked away in the south wing but because I had become friendly with many of the servants who were sympathetic towards me, I was sometimes let out to roam the premises – with a couple of escorts of course. It was their trust and relaxed vigilance that gave me the opportunity to flee using one of the merchants’ steeds. They gave chase, but I was too far gone by then. Several days later, some human bandits waylaid me, robbing all I possessed but luckily they failed to kill me. I travelled on foot until I got to where I fell. The only thing that kept me going was hope. I’m still amazed at how close I was to the city.”
I shrugged and sighed. “And there you have it.”
Pell had wandered out onto the balcony now and looked at us seriously. Now he spoke. “Fate works in all sorts of mysterious ways but it is how we emerge from it that counts. Cal? Are you at peace with all of this?”
Cal was quiet for a while. “Only if he is at peace with me over Orien,” he said decisively.
And he knew I was. By the Aghama, I was. We smiled at each other and embraced.
“What of Phade?” I suddenly asked. I wasn’t afraid of mentioning his name anymore.
Both Tigrons smiled menacingly. “He’s here. In the Confinement Tower.”
“You brought him here already?” I was surprised.
“But of course!” Pell replied smoothly. “He’s got quite a few charges to answer for. He’s been a little troublesome even before his appalling crime on you anyway. That was the last straw. We’ll be scrubbing out the muck in his slimy heart, worry not. I don’t exactly envy the torment his soul will go through – all by his own hands of course.”
“That was quick, getting him here so fast.” I said thoughtfully.
Cal grinned. “We’re famous for our quick responses.”
“Forget him. Let’s get out of this sun, you burn easily Flick, remember?” chided Pell, already sauntering inside. Cal and I followed, making faces at his back.
We chatted about all sorts of things and the old times at Saltrock and how far we had all come but most relaxing of all, we could all talk of Orien, Farbien and Quest without the slightest hint of malice. A sumptuous lunch arrived but we hardly noticed. Cal told me of his wanderings and experiences before finally making it to Immanion, which, I was amused to know, had now become a subject of great research at most centers of learning. They even had a traditional name for it; “The Wanderlust” they called it, and I was a little taken aback to hear how many young hara undertook this journey after their feybraiha to find their callings.
By the time we finished, it was sundown. I stood up, stretched and begged my leave amidst much protests.
“All right at least have a little chat with Velaxis whose been wanting to meet you.” demanded Pell.
“Vela-who?” I frowned.
“A nice little har who would like to take care of your needs.” Cal smiled, as Pell called for his servants to go fetch this Vela-whatever the name was. He came in smiling and I was pretty taken in. I liked what I saw and wanted some. I smiled back.
“Now don’t do anything I wouldn’t do?” joked Cal.
As I made to leave with Velaxis, Pell insisted that I come to the lounge in the west wing later in the evening, saying that he had a little surprise for me. I obliged and promised to be there. I hugged them and left.
Part 12 (Rameses)
I watched Flick leave. Didn’t want him to because I had a nagging feeling he was disappearing from us again. But that was just subliminal anxiety. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed him. Pell said something.
“I said I’m going to my office. Got a few things to tie up. We run a world here you know.” That was Pell being imperious again.
“Yeah, don’t remind me,” I sighed. “I’ll see you later in the west wing. I have to go check on my new horse. The Gimrah entourage would have arrived hours ago and must be fed up of being entertained so I have to go attend to them in a few moments.”
“Fine. See you soon.” Pell kissed my cheek and left.
I wandered back to the balcony to catch the last few minutes of the sun trailing scarlet hues on the lavender sky. I could see the first of the stars blinking at me. Twilight, I muttered.
I put my hands on the cool railings and watched the darkening sky, seeing the fading beauty of the sunset ebb from view and likening it to the beautiful lives that were gone yet still touched us. I knew I came out here to reflect on what Flick had imparted to us today. I had a son I had never known, who had suffered at my friend’s hands because of me.
:::He never suffered:::
I did not turn round. I had guessed he’d show up eventually.
:::You knew I would:::
He came and stood beside me, looking out at the celestial bodies emerging. His ethereal form glowed with a soft luminance that only my own eyes could perceive.
:::Magnificent isn’t it?::: He said, gesturing at the heavens.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I wasn’t angry. I just needed to know.
:::Quest was not a part of your life. I know it will not give you any comfort to tell you this but he would have caused you intense grief if you had taken that path in the fork of your destiny. Quest had a purpose and it had nothing to do with you. Everything happens for a reason. Every living creature has a journey and their threads are always interconnected with the destiny they weave for themselves. Quest’s was with the Uigenna. First, to his hostling, Veidore, to teach him independence and strength. I’m sure you can remember how sloppy a creature he was. Next, to the Uigenna, in maintaining a certain balance of power that had chain effects all over the north. And lastly, to Flick, to teach him the power of channeling his love into something and someone he believed in. Flick needed it at the time but didn’t know it. Quest gave him Farbien.
:::Your son never suffered. He relished Flick’s torturing because that was how he was made. To Flick, it was gratifying because he was releasing his anger in stages. To Quest, he thought he was getting an attention he craved and recriminations for his atrocities. He loved no one but Flick. He knew of you but could not be bothered to look for you because he did not want to know. He only just about tolerated his hostling. Quest was a self-centered creature, living for himself and only himself:::
“But you could have at least told me!” I exclaimed.
:::And let you deviate from the great future ahead of you? Have you been listening to me Calanthe? That path would have brought you untold grief, worse than you could hope to bear. Your destiny was here, to me, to your race – and to Pell.:::
“I would have loved to at least see what he looked like.” I said mournfully.
:::Oh but you can. Just drop in to the Geiselkhst plane. You’ll see him frolicking in the fields. You can discuss with him any time! And the good part about this plane -:::
“-is that they can make themselves look any age they want to at will.” My heart filled with excitement as I caught on to what he was alluding to. “Which means I can see him as he was as a harling, as a young har, as a hostling.”
:::I think you get the idea. Now stop sulking and run along. You have a little horsy to test drive and I’ll advise that you buckle up and brace yourself. I’ve added a little dash of something to the animal as I guessed you would need a quick mode of transport to get to Geiselkhst – just in case you feel too lazy to do it the hard way. But come back soon, you have a little surprise company later tonight:::
I smiled and was about to say something but he was gone. I stood there thinking for a while. Then left to see the Gimrah and my new horse.
I farewelled them, knowing that I would find some time later to have a quiet chat with Flick. I had to try and let him know how it had been for me. How my memories had been quietly manipulated. It hurt deeply to think of him being alone, and the suffering he had endured, without me knowing about it. He had been more than a friend to me in the early days. I had thought of him as a brother. In fact if Cal hadn’t been on the scene we may have even become Chesna. I wonder what Thiede would have thought of that.
I laughed. Thiede was always there. ::Go away and leave me alone for a while:: I grumbled.
He just hmmphed again and disappeared.
I sighed and settled down at my desk to try and plough my way through a pile of paperwork. I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking about Flick and how I wanted him to be happy. I was interrupted in my thoughts by a quiet knock at the door. It was Velaxis and he had a wide grin on his handsome face. “Come in.”
He stepped into my office, his grin widening. “Thanks for introducing me to Flick.”
“You’re welcome. Let me guess, you like him, Velaxis. Am I right?”
Velaxis bowed his head and I could see a red blush extending up from his throat. “That much,” I laughed, and he let out a stifled giggle. I hoped my little arrangement would work. Velaxis was kind, gentle and very sensual. Flick needed a lot of loving about now, and I hoped that Velaxis would be able to give it to him
“Oh, I nearly forgot,” Velaxis looked up at me. “Your guests have arrived.”
I leapt up from my desk, happy to have a valid excuse to leave my paper work again. “Have you made them comfortable?”
Velaxis assured me they were resting comfortably after their trip, then he prattled on about Flick, all the way to the reception room.
There they were. I hadn’t seen either of them in so long.
I hugged them both warmly and ordered in some supper. I apologized for Cal not being here as well to receive them, explaining that he had to take a very important ride to somewhere but would soon return.
“Will Flick be here soon?” One of my guests asked.
Just as asked, I heard Flick’s voice talking to one of the servants. He sounded happy, and as I looked over at Velaxis I caught a glint of something more than just happiness in his eyes.
I got to the lounge room and froze. There was Seel. I recognized him immediately. He looked so different, so unapproachable. They had all changed, glamorous beyond description. He stood with Pell and another gorgeous hara backing me. Swift? I waited at the threshold not knowing what to do. It had been so long. I could feel my heart thumping wildly. Then they turned, all at once. They had sensed me. For a few long seconds time froze. Then Seel smiled that mischievous grin that I remembered so well, threw his arms wide and came towards me.
I was home again.