IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume VI: The Rift
Friday, December 25, 2708, continued
(“Not yet,” the Headmaster says, standing now, in front of the entry. And again, “Not yet.” Everything in me screams to shove past him, to run down the stairs, shoulder through that door below and rush in on Jake. But surely Wallace must know what he’s doing, navigating on the…)
(“Now,” Wallace says, and steps out of the way. I fidget, waiting my turn, as pairs go ahead of us, in intervals.)
(George wears a rich robe of purple cheirsilk satin, and he looks so desirable! It’s her robe, I realize, his mother’s robe, found in her old room, in a forgotten corner. Embroidery quilts it here and there. Fine work.
And I wear the soft goatskin, as matte as his is glossy, unevenly stitched, unhemmed and irregular. I feel savage in it, in a calm way, a windswept way without buildings on the horizon.
Now he rants to his followers, shaking an angry fist at the sound of footsteps marching down the stairs to us, a muffled rhythm more felt than heard, but I can’t follow a word he says. It doesn’t matter, anyway. His cause has slipped away from him, and he doesn’t even know it. I just stand here, propped up by the leather, waiting for my moment, which he thinks is his.
And the steps come closer, louder, vibrating my bones.
I interrupt him; he has lost his focus. “The night won’t last forever,” I say. “You’re running out of time.”)
(“I can feel it,” Don whispers, as we descend down the stairs, “so strong it charges the very dust upon the air.”
“I know,” I say, and grip him tightly.
I hadn’t noticed the architecture before, rather rich for a mere utilitarian space—grand and gloomily made of dark wood and pale tile, square-edged moldings and built-up wax. It’s as if, unconsciously, the builders made this cellar for something special. I remind myself that whatever we deal with here reaches back and forth in time.
“Do you think Jake’s been, you know, seduced?” Don asks, then hastily adds, “by a gregor, I mean,” when he sees me blush.
“I don’t know,” I say, and shiver.
“I know I tried to comfort you earlier, but…”
“Yeah. We have to face the truth, whatever it might be.”
“It does seem strange, that he hasn’t wanted found.”)
(We watch Jake and the Changewright face off with each other. Will they fight? Something charges the air; it might mean violence, it might mean something else. I notice, for the first time, that the Changewright has lost weight. He has taken on a thin, tough look, his cheeks like knotted muscle above a weapon-narrow chin. The candlelight illuminates them alone, that and the weird pink glow that casts the rest of us in silhouette—now isn’t that strange?
In silence George clasps Jake’s left arm with his right. Jake returns the clasp. Aaron and I hasten to press knives into their free palms; I don’t know why, just that I’m supposed to. I guess they will fight.
And at an equal disadvantage, for Jake is left-handed, and George is the opposite. Yet...Yet I doubt if they will fight. I don’t know! Anything could happen this night; fear and excitement clog the shadows and the air stinks of adrenalin. Muscles cramp from sheer tension; nobody makes a noise.
A pause, and then the two walk out of the candlelight, side by side, arms still linked. It looks dancelike, formal. The rest of us follow behind them in a flood. Jake has consented to something.)
(“Wait here,” George says to those who want to follow us. This cellar matches the other in the main building identically. For past this door lies yet another room, with a carpet like a match to the old one that we burned, yet with no stain on it...yet. And this room holds still more magentine, laid out in patterns on the carpet, with matching patterns on the walls and roof. While behind the crystals wait miles and miles of ghosts, watching.)
“They watch,” I hear Lufti whisper. I feel him shiver against me, under the blanket. I want to put an arm around him. But I can’t move.
(“My traitor flunky laid them out that way,” Alroy remarks from behind me. “Jimmy the Junkyard Dog. But only two-dimensionally; I believe that if he’d had the imagination to create a 3D design like this he might actually have defeated me.” I feel a wink burn the back of my head. “Frankly it suited me better to complete myself, in the fashion you devised—thank you, Jake, for that.”
“My pleasure,” I murmur.
I can hardly breathe the air in that windowless place. I don’t know whether I hallucinate the pulsing of the crystals in time to my own pulse, or whether it happens for r...but it’s all real, isn’t it?
“Or none of it,” Alroy murmurs; I shrug for him, since he no longer has shoulders. “Or both at once.”
George leads me to a table and chairs. And there we sit, across from each other, still clasping arms, still armed with knives, in a darkness illuminated only psychically. But he has discovered his many talents, now; he lights a candle with his mind...or somebody’s.)
(Randy faints at my side, but I catch him before he tumbles down the stairs—one-armed, because his grip on my hand doesn’t let go.
“Sorry,” he says. “I felt something drain out of me for a minute, there.”)
(I find myself lying on the carpet—where did the table go? I’ve been saying something, I don’t know what. I feel confused, uncoordinated. Well, naturally. Yet my body feels all wrong—the wrong size, the wrong proportions. I sit up and cross my arms--and discover to my horror that I have breasts!
A bearded blonde man grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me, shouting, “I want my wife back! Give me back my wife!” I stare at him in utter bewilderment. Too weird–I just fold in on myself.
No, wait—wait! I’m Dolores, not Jake, sitting on the floor at the Grail with David’s hands gripping my shoulders very hard. I hug him and he hugs me back, weeping.)
(“Have’ta danccccce,” Kimba sleeptalks. Her body twitches as though she tries to rise, but soon subsides. “Somebody else...do it...for me.” And she falls still and silent once again.)
(I have to dance! I kick off the blankets and burst out from the heath that hides with us between the boulders from the tearing wind.
Kiril shouts, “Lufti, NO!” before Nishka tackles her and claps a hand over her mouth.
I can hear everything that the stars can. I can hear Nishka say, “It’s him or all of us; if he runs away from us in his madness, it’s better than making a commotion keeping him here, drawing the enemy back to us.” And I can hear Kiril screaming, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” And Nishka shouting back, “Hold still, or you’ll open your wound again, and Deirdre’s still out cold, and we can’t wake her up to fix you!”
And yet neither of them makes a sound. It all blows through my head, a wind of thoughts, airs mingling with other airs from all over the worlds, whipping through me and out again and past me as I leap from rock to rock in the early sunlight, but it’s dark still over there, where they need my dancing most. It’s winter there, too, and the cold blows through me.)
(I hear a commotion on the steps above. I turn and see the Headmaster pushing past the pairs to reach us. He clasps Don’s shoulders and says, “Do you know how to make a tourniquet?”
Don nods, eyes widening. “I’m medically trained, yes.”
Wallace pulls off the wool scarf around his neck and hands it over—I’d never seen him wear one before, come to think of it, no matter how cold the weather. “Don’t shake your friend out of the trance until you get the tourniquet on him—or he’ll dance off with the dead.”)
(The Dead need dancing! All the ones who have died, all through time, they watch avidly for my dance as I skip along the ridge, bullets popping and pinging off the boulders under me, cutting me with flying chips of rocks but the bullets can’t hit me, themselves, for all the ghosts, a whole world of ghosts, show me where to leap from second to microsecond way up high here upon the spine of the planet!)
(“Time to dance, Jake.” George plunges his knife into the wood. With his hands free, he draws a flask from his pocket, pulls the cork with his teeth, hesitates, and then forces down every drop, gulping and gasping noisily, then drops the bottle to shatter on the floor, the tinkling cutting right through everything. He reels in his seat a moment, his eyes wild on me, then gasps, “it...it takes an awful...lot to...to...to dance with you, Jake.”
I feel myself whirl with him, slowly, wildly, magestically, neither of us moving our bodies so far, so very far away. “I love you,” I reply to the dying boy.)
(“I’m here! I’m here!” I cry mentally, gulping down coffee and stuffing fruitcake into my face, new power surging into my veins. “I’m here, I love you, whatever you need, take it Don, I love you! Randy, save your lover I love you!” But instead Don and Randy shoot back to me so much concentrated magentine-power that it burns. I have to purge it out by temporarily blinding everyone in a 50 meter radius with a raw rose glow, deafening them with wild music from the past. And then I can run out of there, my dirty bare feet scrubbed numb in the frozen grass. And I shoot back love, all the pure sweet raw and womanly love that I can heave from my breast.)
(“I’m here,” I whisper, sitting by Kimba’s hidden bed in Montoya Manor. “Take what you need of me, friendclan sibs—save Jake! Save Jake!” But instead a surge of rose-bright love rushes right through me, empowering Guaril and Tshura to hold on longer, to protect me, to protect us all. And I send back love and gratitude, with all the sassy, curvy womanhood in me, because I feel them starved for my gender. Well baby, I’ve got all you need, right here! I love you! I love you all!
And even yes even my cheatin’ husband right now caught in bed with a wild young mountain-girl of Dhurba, I love you, too, so there, you little rascal, and I send back your fondness for the honey’d chalice of womankind to those who have forgotten what it’s for, right at the very climactic instant of exploding new young life, the fertility too long held back, yes, yes, that too!)
“I’m here,” I murmur, but nobody can hear me over the gunfire, but I murmur it anyway. “I’m here, I love you, and whatever womanhood I have left I send to you, even if I can’t so much as lift my eyelids, even if my lips never actually move at all, I burn with love and I send it to you Jake, my brotherling, take all you need!” But the connection between us has suffered so much damage, I don’t know whether anything reaches him or not. And I weep in my sleep, too tired, too tired, too tired, even asleep I cannot rest.
(Away, away, away from camp. Protect Deirdre no matter what, so that the birth can happen with her help, with all the women’s help. My sandals break and I kick them off and keep on dancing, smearing the granite with my bleeding feet, rippling the air with my fingertips like butterflies that cause the hurricanes a half a world away, though I make a different weather. I spin like a tornado, and then I duck and dive as bullets join the dance above me, and then leap high, reaching for the stars.)