IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE

by

Dolores J. Nurss


Volume IV: Braided Paths


Chapter 42

Braintangle


Monday, October 19, 2708

            (We blink, as a distant clock tolls the strokes of midnight, opening our eyes to pure darkness, our bodies weird and fluid all around us.  Something just happened.  Something…psigenic.

Siiiiiigh gyn gyn gyn NICK!  The word plays with my poor head.  Don and Zanne had discovered that the rumors were true, they’d told me: the peasant-caste Duerlonghios had indeed created a real and potent psigenic, which even made Merrill a telepath for a little while, a year or two ago.  But why here, why now, why…why am I even thinking at all?

Everybody around me moves in slow motion.  I do, too, shoving through a gooey atmosphere.  I think my brain has forgotten how to compensate for my neural alteration.

Click!  Creaaaaak…thump.  All three of us can feel it when they open the door: the wall of evil, like the stench inside coagulated into a gelatin that shoves us back when we try to move forward—much, much more intensely than before, when this potion riots in our blood.  Don whimpers, Jake groans, and I claw past the wool-clad bodies to grab Jake’s hand.  But we can’t turn back now—they drag us in, floundering through the evil.

Nausea…oh God.  Sweet Jesus calm my stomach like the heaving waters of Galilee!  Cloying liquor and bitter herbs and that death-stench and psychic assault and ohhhhhhh!)

Throwing up.  Don’t know why.  Just am.  Somebody holds me.  Eyes won’t open.  Then…all gone.
            (“Don’t throw up,” Joel says gently.  “Hold it in.  It matters.”  Others bind our hands together in prayer, with blasphemous instructions swimming in and out through my ears but a hardness a…a magentine crystal!  I feel its coldness warm—oh no no no no, mustn’t do that, oh no, not accidentally combust anything oh God I feel so drunk and sick and scared and in way, way over my head!  And I feel the heat build…

“Acu…punc…ture,” I hear Don mumble.  “Pressure…point.”  Oh.  Okay.  Yeah.   I remember now.  A point inside the wrist which, when pressed, quells nausea.  And I feel it doing that, and just knowing an explanation, from a rational world, makes me feel better all over.  I cool down my panic, and the stone cools, too.

“Aiiiii!” Don screams as something wet and stinking sprinkles on us.  So much for my anchor of rationality!  But then he quiets, or fades, or dissolves, or something, or we all do.  Yes, that’s it.  We all dissolve.  Just as we ought to do.  Into sparks.  Glimmers in a gum-thick atmosphere.

Rituals go on around us.  Should be able to…but I can’t.  Nope, not right now.  Can’t extrapolate locations, shapes, sizes, from the sounds, figure out what he picks up, puts down, in what way, but…knowing that in a different frame of mind I could do this comforts me.  I know that I psygraph all of this, automatically, and later, yes indeed, later I will be able to reconstruct…what was I just thinking, again?  Never mind.  Just kick back and feel woozy-good, even though hands shake me every time I start to fall asleep…)

“Wake her!  Shake her!  Don’t let her sleep!”

“No, do let her sleep!  That’s just a myth.”

“It doesn’t matter.  We can’t…”

Gone.

(Gone.  We all dissolve into sparks.  Itty bitty bits and pieces.  No Jake, no Don, no Randy, no no NO!  Don’t let go of the thread!  Motes of random blinks of energy try to coalesce into a hand, an inner soul-hand holding onto something whose own particles keep slipping through the spaces but others coalesce through me and together we can combine into something sort of fingered that can keep this thread of glitters from slipping quite away.)

I almost…but no.  It’s okay.  Everything will be okay.  Head hurts, full of sparks, but leave the head behind, no fear, I’m held, I’m held, I’m safe…drift off into safety...it’s okay…

(It’s okay.)  (We’re okay.)  (He/we still hold the shimmering coppery…whatever, we hold it.  Rituals drone on, slicing through the particle flow, but we hold on, we…we just…it’s so important that we just…

“Kiss the baby.”)

“JAKE!” I scream, my whole body arching.

“What happened, what’s happening, Oh lord is that a seizure?”

“Nightmare, maybe.  I never heard of people shouting in a seizure.”

“I have.”

“Oh dear God...”

(“Lisa!”  “Deirdre!”  “Deirdre and Lisa!”  “And Zanne!” we holler all at once.  I don’t know which parts I shout.  “Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre don’t let go!”)

Let go.  Let it all go.

(Nonono!  “Deirdre!  Deirdre!  Deirdre!” we keep on yelling, till hands clap over our mouths.

“Quiet, quiet my darlings.”  Is that George’s voice?  Yet so melodious, so…seductive.  “You can tell us without shouting.”

“Deirdre,” one of us sighs.  Or maybe we all do.  “Lisa.  Deirdre.  Zanne.”

“Changewright, they’re holding on longer than anybody.”

“I told you they were special.”

I hear Don sob, “Lis...Lisa!  I-I was going to get married!”

I weep, myself.  “I loved her, too.”

“But Deirdre!” Jake moans.  “Don’t forget her.  Don’t let go—oh please don’t let go!  We…we…I need her.”)

I need...oh how I need...

 (I’m here Don, oh my beloved Don and Randy, too, sweet Randy, and yes even Jake, I’m here I’m here I don’t know how we’ve broken through the blocking but something terrible has gone wrong in Corriebhai Colony—they’re destroying telepaths here, they’re...but you don’t understand, do you?  Something wrong with your minds, too?  Hold on, please hold on, please, but already they...no...)

(George grips me...no, Jake.  I can feel him gripping Jake, and I can feel Jake in my grip.  He hisses, “Youuuuu…” but I hear approval in the hiss.  “You connect, in some way, some unnatural way…” and he says “unnatural” with such relish that it reminds me of…somebody disturbing.  “You and she…but not in the hellish way…and she…SHE HAS HELD MY GITA!”

Commotion, noise and tumbling!  Groggily I realize that George Winsall has pushed Jake away, actually stumbled back, and thrown us all into confusion.  I feel my body sort of buzzing around me, but my own body again.  The potion starts to wear off, faster than Winsall planned on—our altered neurology at work, no doubt.  But I have no trouble faking unawareness of this, still feeling quite drunk regardless of the herbs mixed with the kusmet.

“Tell Zanne,” Jake babbles.  “Tell Zanne, tell Zanne, tell...I forget.”)

(Commotion and tumbling...and then I feel Cybil’s arms around me as she drags me up out of the mud, in the dark, in the house that smells like rats and mildew.  She sits me on a rough plank step of the cellar stairs and asks, “Zanne, what just happened?”

“I have no idea,” I say shakily, instinctively running a tidying hand through my hair, only to realize too late that my hand is muddy.  Oh Gates!  I hope I haven’t developed a seizure disorder like Don did, we’re all vulnerable, all of us mindchanged ones.  Oh Gates of Knowledge forbid...but no, They never forbid, do They?  Whatever is true is just...true.

Well, then, Zanne.  If it comes to it, dear, you do have the herblore to concoct a remedy.)

(“Well!” Winsall—Changewright—laughs, though shakily.  “We’ve had a most productive evening, I must say.  But can you still remember the names you just cried out?”

Lisa and Deirdre.  And Zanne.  “No,” I lie, bemusedly.  Something tells me that I must not, under any circumstance, reveal that the breaking of the spell upon this school stays broken in the three of us.)

Do I feel lips tremble on mine, tentative, a mere flutter, as if a kiss could wake me from this spell?  Do I feel a warm, fresh tear hit my cheek?

“Oh Deirdre,” Tanjin moans.  “Please don’t d...”  And then everything fades...

(...fades...)

(...fades...)

(...fades...)

(Feel it all fade away once more before Cybil can...)

(...and then Don slips away from me as if we had never been born.)



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