Season 4, Episode 5
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
I’d hoped, but also feared, to find myself again in that world of impossibly split-open objects, fragments of the castle’s walls hanging suspended. Wisps of grey mist hung in the air, and arcane energies crackled and popped about me, their powder-blue light flaring and fading. I knew that light well: it had accompanied me on the night the magic led me to Kaye’s bed, and that pale light had clung to my fingers as I drew the sigils on my skin.
As fervently as I’d prayed that the magic would take Kaye with me into the uncanny place in which I now stood, I’d never imagined that someone else would get caught up in the spell. It didn’t matter how Lily had been swept up with us, I had to find her. She was lost here and understandably terrified. Kaye couldn’t help me.
“I can’t move,” he’d said, and it took me a moment to realize why. I was naked. My robe, my gloves, they hadn’t come through with me. That explained why Lily had been naked when she dashed off. Kaye was likewise nude, but he’d been stripped of more than his modesty. Without his crutches and leg-braces, he couldn’t walk. In that moment, he looked at me and I saw an echo of the angry, desperate boy he’d been when the sickness had taken his legs. Could I lift his weight by myself? Even if I could carry him, I’d never catch up to Lily that way.
“I’ll find Lily,” I said, “and we’ll all get out of here.”
The gap Lily had squeezed through was barely wide enough for a skinny servant girl. There was no way that my belly and I could fit through that way. The door was mostly in a single piece, so I flung it open and was confronted with a hallway that had been truly torn apart, each paver hanging in the air several feet from those near it. Space opened up below me, an immense drop into mists that swirled and rolled over each other in a manner more like earth tilled by worms than any natural movement of the air.
I leapt to the nearest chunk of floating flagstone, and my pregnancy-swollen ankles twinged in protest. My foot slipped backwards off of its perch, and I fell toward that yawning void.
“Ugh!” I cried out as my belly hit and slid over the stone, which then raked my breasts as I clutched the other side of the chunk. My sore right shoulder screamed.
I swore under my breath as I strained and slowly lifted myself back up. I then sat down on that treacherous platform and cradled my scraped stomach. The child inside me had been quiet, but was now active, and gave me a couple of strong punches. Taking some comfort from that, I checked my ankles to make sure they were merely sore, not twisted. Rising to my feet, I took a deep breath and leapt for the next stone.
By the time I made my way out of that corridor and to the hallway Lily had fled down, she could have been anywhere. I moved at a brisk walk, not trusting myself to run, and discovered she hadn’t made it far. Rounding the corner from a passage where the walls were as clear as glass, I came to a display of burning rope and shattered pottery. Many of the shards had been pushed out of the way, and I followed the path that had been cleared to an open archway. Beyond was a small, mostly intact room with only small fissures in the walls and floor. Lily stood straight and still in that room, facing a mirror that hung from the opposite wall.
As I approached, the blank impassivity of her reflected expression sent a shiver down my spine. The mirror had no frame, seeming instead to be set directly into the wall.
“Lily!” I called. “Lily, I know this must be unsettling, but you need to come with me now. I’ll explain later.”
No reaction. I didn’t want to grab her bare shoulder for fear of spooking her again, so I made my way to her side and turned to face her. My words stuck in my throat, turning to a choked gasp, as I looked at her. Her face was a blank. Not expressionless—it just wasn’t there. There was nothing there, an emptiness like a hole in a painting, something that shouldn’t be possible.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the reflection of Lily’s face turn toward me in the mirror, while her faceless body remained motionless in front of me. This magic was beyond me, and the prudent thing would have been to run, but I wasn’t going to abandon Lily like this. I faced the thing in the mirror. There were Lily’s brown eyes, her small nose, and her freckles, but there was nothing of Lily in that face. Something was wearing my friend like a mask.
Lily’s lips didn’t move, but I heard a voice in my head. This one is acceptable, but you are remarkable. I felt a sense of intense pressure, like when one dives into deep water, and the mirror seemed to grow larger and brighter while everything else grew distant and dim. Lily’s stolen eyes blazed like twin suns, her pupils completely empty, empty like the unnatural blankness where her face should be. I felt a sense of vertigo as those twin voids opened wider and wider.
With an effort, I closed my eyes. It seemed to take forever, like the slow fade to black of the sky just after sunset. The moment the warm, human dark inside my eyes completely replaced the ravenous emptiness I beheld in the mirror, the pressure lessened and I felt at ease in my body. My aching, tired, and suddenly itchy body. The sigils in my skin were what itched. They had almost flared to life.
I looked away from the mirror before opening my eyes. Keeping my focus on the wall, I could see in my peripheral vision that whatever was in or behind the mirror was still using Lily’s countenance.
You are strange. The voice in my head spoke, and I nearly laughed.
“Am I? Let my friend go and then we can talk.”
No. I need a body. If I can’t have yours, I will take hers.
“By all the Goddess’s bounty, I will not let you.”
Goddess? Oh, you mean the one marked for death.
“Listen, lying spirit,” I began, but then the mirror rippled like water, and the voice in my head spoke again.
He comes. Go away. I must prepare my vessel.
Lily’s naked, faceless body slid toward the mirror, as if the ground under her bare feet was moving. In that moment, I did something desperate: I locked my gaze with that of the face in the mirror. Immediately the pressure returned, and the mirror began expanding in my sight. This time I was ready. I focused my attention on the itchy marks on my skin and I felt, rather than saw, them light up. That anchored me, restoring my awareness of my body. I still felt the pressure and the vertigo, but now I had something to hold on to.
Stop interfering! The voice in my head demanded.
“Speak truth,” I said, and I felt the Power surge through me with my words. “What are you?”
I was powerful long ago, important. Now I am small, but I will become great again. Let me go!
“What is this place?”
It is where your kind is bound. It is the place of true dreams. It is what you call “the wyrding.” The voice paused. He is coming. Give me this vessel and I will guide you to safety.
“That’s not going to happen. Who is this ‘he’ that you fear?”
It was then that I smelt the first hint of woodsmoke and amber.
He has no name. It was consumed in the pyre that gave him power.
“Tell me what he is.”
He is the avenger. He is the chosen of the wyrding. He is fate’s bloody hand. He will destroy her.
The one marked for death, the one you call Goddess. He is here! Take your “friend,” and may his vengeance fall upon you!
The spirit, whatever it was, slipped out of my grasp and fled. The mirror in the wall shattered, and its shattered fragments dissolved like morning mist. I heard the thump as Lily’s body collapsed to the ground. I went to her side. Her face was her own again, and she was breathing. The stink of aromatic wood was strong now, and the rot underneath it sickening.
“Lily,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm and comforting despite the growing sense of urgency. “You must wake up.”
She coughed and her eyes flew open.
“Maiden, er, Yelena, I had such a dream…” she trailed off as she took in our unnatural surroundings, her nakedness, and my own. The arcane marks on my body still glowed. Her mouth opened as if to scream, and I thought she might bolt again, so I hugged her preemptively and spoke.
“Not now, Lily. I’ll explain later, but now we have to save Kaye and get out of here.”
I felt something like hot, fetid breath on the back of my neck.
“Yelena, I—” she began again.
“Later, Lily.” I helped her to her feet. Goddess, I hurt all over. “Move!”
Ignoring the pain, I ran back toward the storeroom. I could hear Lily’s bare feet slapping the floor behind me. The sickening combination of char and decay grew thick, overwhelming the incense. When we reached the corner where I’d almost fallen into the mists, the stones were closer together than before. Now most of the gaps could be crossed with a long stride. This made our passage much easier, but also reminded me of the way the strange separation of space had begun to seal up the first time I was here.
Kaye sat exactly where I had left him. He looked up at me as I arrived, then saw Lily, and looked away.
“Lily,” he said, “I’m glad you’re well.”
“No time!” I said, reaching his side and squatting so I could lift him by his shoulder.
Kaye gagged at my approach. “What happened? That stink…”
“Like curdled milk and spoiled meat,” I said, and tried to lift Kaye. “Uggh! Lily, I need your help.”
Lily stood still for a moment, then approached slowly.
“I’m sorry,” Kaye apologized, “you shouldn’t have to see me like this, or lay bare hands on me.”
Goddess forsake Thrycae, and it’s backwards customs, I thought.
“Lily,” I said, “I need you to take Kaye’s other shoulder. If you don’t, we will all die here.”
I felt that hot, rotting breath on my neck again. Lily looked at me, her eyes watering and her lower lip quivering. I met her gaze with all the confidence I could muster. She gave a small nod, composed herself, and grabbed Kaye’s arm. They both winced.
“Too late,” a low, spiteful voice whispered in my ear. I let go of Kaye and spun around. No-one there.
“Yelen?” Kaye let my name hang in the air.
“He’s here,” I heard myself say.
“Who is here?” he asked.
© 2014 Copyright Tof Eklund
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