Aside: Blink

by artrald

This is not part of Fear & Surprise. This is event fic for Empire LRP, character Iulian Shatterspire.

It contains significant IC spoilers for that game: it is an account of a past-life vision, the core of the Imperial Faith. I was privileged and honoured to get one and consider it my duty to get as much awesome out of that ten minute experience as possible, so here is my account.

Empire LRP players: if you read beyond this point you are reading my character headspace. It’s totally fine, right, because this is not a game of total IC secrecy, but you may not want to find this stuff out out of character and if you don’t, please look away now.

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“By Aesh, go forth.” He speaks the words and I focus upon Aesh, thought. And I do not allow terror to take me.

(For I am about to die.)

“By Diras, go forth.” He speaks the words and my mind wanders, begins to flutter free, and I am caught up in Diras, that which is hidden which can be seen.

“By-”

I blink: I close my eyes.

Forever happens.

Eyes open: they are Merenael’s; she must have blinked. The wind howls.

She is re-reading the letter she sent south, the carefully chosen phrases, the emotional manipulation and string-pulling that is the meat and drink of politics – the niggling irritating weight of people’s prejudice, as if she were not capable of interpreting her own damned work, as if an interpretation were not stronger than a mere guess. She’s looking at it as the wind howls and she’s thinking – where did she go wrong? Which words were insufficient? Which working failed? Which councillors – was there a single string unpulled, a single step untaken that had led them to this end? I spread out the pages absently. ‘Swap’, I hear Allegra say, as Merenael takes up the second page of the document and casually discards the first page readable. I cannot see her hands; I am bright.

The door is opening and here is Fallahd but I do not know his name. Desperation in his eyes, in his voice. It’s just as I’d foretold. It’s all as I foretold. The doom has come upon us, he’s saying.

Behind you, I say, and he doesn’t notice and he doesn’t look and I bite my damned tongue. It speaks to him, it whispers to him that all is lost, that hope is gone, but I am bright and it cannot approach me.

All is lost, he’s saying, and she knows its truth. She’s hearing flames outside, now, above the high sound of the wind. She’s hearing a scream, a scream there’s a face to.

Behind him in the shadows it moves. It speaks to him. Give in to despair, it says. Give in. All is lost. Leave the child –

Child –

A stab of fear, of hurt, a knife in the gut and as quickly as it arrives it is analysed, recorded, discarded. It is hers, it is not mine, and I am bright and it may not touch me. She is not leaving her child here to die in the dark, and she tells him so, she argues with him. Flames, she can hear, flames outside the door. The high desperate whinny of an animal in pain.

And as she does so, it turns from him. I am bright and it cannot touch me but I am not the only one who is here. It turns to Allegra and it looks her in the eye, and the sudden jolt that I feel is shoved aside every bit as brutally as Merenael’s own fear, but I know full well that it is mine.

Fallahd takes up the elixir upon her table. The last of it. There is enough for two. Leave the child, he is saying, escape, get away, get us to the Dreamscape – Merenael was a mage of Night, then – there is within her thoughts neither one instant’s stutter nor one moment’s pause. Go, she is saying. Take our child. She will stay. She who failed to prevent this, let her face it and die.

No, he says. It speaks to him, it speaks to him again, it speaks of fear and despair – He is not leaving her. He would rather –

Merenael is interrupting him. I cannot see Allegra. I cannot see my Guide. I am bright and despair cannot approach me but she is dark and it knows her. She is my way home. Will I be stuck here? Is this how it ends for me? Merenael’s interrupting her husband. Very well, then, she says, and the decision is already made as to how this shall end. Taking the bottle from his nerveless fingers.

Grasping his hand with hers in a mannerism I find so familiar. Strength, she is saying. I’ll see you again, she is saying.

And she is feeding the elixir to her child and his disbelief grows into a howling spiral of despair

but I am bright and despair cannot touch me and she lifts the elixir to her own lips

and the taste is dust and ashes as he cries her name

and she blinks, closes her eyes

forever happens

and I open my eyes; I must have blinked. And my mouth is full of dust and ashes.

*

“Merenael,” I say, although I can’t spell it.

“Merenael,” agrees Allegra, and then another name, the wrong name, a word I don’t know. But I repeat it, because she is my guide for a reason.

The civil servant hands me my bag and I write my name wrongly and this other foreign word and my blood buzzes and sings and I realise with a cold certainty that it’s Spring that’s walking, breathing, recording information, holding my hand. That the core of me has one foot in the Labyrinth even now, that without the power in my blood I would be lying full length in the mud.

I begin to repeat details to myself and Allegra looks at me strangely.

I begin to outline how I feel and Allegra looks at me sharply and warns me of the civil servants. I dismiss her comments. They are Highborn: what will they be able to put together? What of this is secret, anyway?

Belatedly I realise that Allegra has said nothing of note. By way of beginning a self-diagnosis I attempt to explain to her that perhaps she is under an effect that I am not under, possibly due to the thing that could not approach me.

“Oh,” she says distantly, “bother.”

My arms are full. There is an instant when she cries out for her circlet. My arms are full and the civil servant is a moment away and I’m grabbing for it but I’m too late and I should have gone for my weapon –

The first blow and I hear something crack inside me. I turn and the second blow strikes me in the head and I fall hard into the soft ground. I call for my rod but it is too late. I call for help but it is too late.

Another blow to the head. My blood sings and I try to stand but the pain is too much. The civil servant passes me my rod and I try to interpose it but the pain is too much and I am struck again. The world spins.

Blearily I see the man I know is sworn to nonviolence, interposing himself between her and me. She strikes him and I see her staff discharge. She strikes him again. Harder. My head is thumping. He falls. So much for Courage.

There is shouting. Other people. Violence. She falls. I try to struggle to my feet. I see Pasaphon looking down at me concerned. I try to make noises and he must have seen the blood on my lips. A man I do not recognise puts a hand on my good shoulder, speaks with conviction and I can feel the rough ungentle power of his will pulling me together, setting me right. A hand to a drowning man. I breathe deep and in the next moment Spring has me on my feet.

What is wrong with me is easily fixed. Even the exorcism has the feeling of the routine.

Allegra is crying for them to hold her down. Her oath binds her even as whatever has come out with her is baying for my blood. They give her her circlet. She is burning her power like a candle to cling to her sanity.

It’s going to be a long night.

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