Part Nineteen of the Sonata in Red series.
Part One: A Song of Glory
Part Two: A Choir of Intrigue
Part Three: Etude in the Sun
Part Four: A Requiem in the Dark
Part Five: Hymns of Terror
Part Six: Refrain from the Past
Part Seven: Refrain from the Past (pt. 2)
Part Eight: A Fugue in Three Parts
Part Nine: Rondo Alla Contrattempo
Part Ten: Interlude
Part Eleven: A Fool’s Masquerade
Part Twelve: A Reprised Duet
Part Thirteen: Dancing with the Devil
Part Fourteen: Adagio under Lantern’s Glow
Part Fifteen: Into Destiny
Part Sixteen: A Perfect Storm
Part Seventeen: Paradiso e Inferno
Part Eighteen: A Taste of Eternity
“I have a sister, but not through blood,” I answer, wishing to make her happy with my answer.
“That won’t explain it,” the man Skandha interrupts, “The condition doesn’t come from his human ancestry.”
“What are you talking about,” I demand, growing frustrated by their cryptic talking about me as if I weren’t right here.
“Perhaps a sibling on the other side?” the beautiful woman asks Skandha as they continue to ignore me.
“Possibly,” he says in an unconvinced tone, “I don’t know if they even work that way.”
“But he could be half, or at least only a part of it?” the woman with the painful eyes asks.
“It is possible,” he repeats in the same uncertain tone.
I lean back in my seat, containing my frustration. As much as I want to shout and demand they stop ignoring me, I’m not confident enough that whatever reason they wanted me for requires me to remain alive and in one piece.
The beautiful woman returns to her position on the other side of the table, the three who had spoken continue to discuss me with the same veiled language they’ve used thus far. I can’t see Raktabīja but I can sense his menacing presence behind me, observing me silently. The fourth Mara neither joins the others in their conversation, nor looks at me. He seems entirely focused on his tea, which he has been drinking with an almost ritualistic intensity since it was poured.
“Can we still do it with just him?” the pain woman asks.
“I can’t say,” frustration has entered his voice, though it is restrained, “The message is… vague. Unlike the machine they use we have to sift manually through impossible amounts of information. We’re mostly working from guesswork.”
I wonder if this message might be what prompted them to want me, but if so I couldn’t think of who might have sent it or why. After that he makes even less sense, I suppose they may be competing with another of the cartels. The machine may be one of the registers the guard captains use at the wall, but that would imply that one of the cartels had managed to steal a register. That would be suicide, if it was even possible. The aristocracy guard the registers as jealously as they guard anything to do with the Aberrant, stealing one would bring down the wrath of the Nobility.
The talking stops briefly, the woman with the hateful eyes seems deep in thought and the other two await a response from her. I look down at my tea, suspicious of whether another sip would return me to that place of understanding again, or if more could have an even stronger effect.
I take the cup in my hand. The pressure from the eyes of the leader begins to build in me again. I grit my teeth and curse her silently, throwing the cup back and swallowing the contents as rapidly as I can without meeting her gaze.
The darkness and cold from before materialises instantly, my mind is flung violently into the pandemonium in contrast to the gentle drift from the earlier sip. Before reality completely vanishes I hear the beautiful woman ask, “Was it really okay to let him drink that?”
The woman with the wicked eyes replies with sadistic malice, “If not, we’ve already learned there are others.”
I come to in the other place. The maelstrom of darkness and light, where heat and cold exist together. I feel the same sense of tranquillity as last time. This place feels like home. I feel connected to this place, like everything is as one. The surging chaos that makes up this place tears through me where my body would be, but I am unharmed. Releasing the desperate connection to form I had never known I carried with me, I spread across everything and become everything. I feel myself burning at the centre of the sun, covering the earth in every stream and ocean, my bones are the mountains and every breath of wind is the air from my lungs. I understand the innermost natures of things, the truth and freedom from constraint is paradise.
I see the past and the future together as one. I see all this is beside what could have been. I see the people I have hurt, by my presence as well as my absence and I weep. I remember now why I went back last time. Not from her voice but by my own choice, by my shame of my failings and the desire to be better. I reach out across eternity to the distant extremes I have spread and pull myself back together. Denying myself paradise is the same as being in hell but until I make things better I cannot stay.
“I want to go back!” I cry into the void. In the space beyond and within everything I feel the presence respond to my cry. I can feel it watching me, I can feel it has always watched me, and everyone else. I feel so small before it.
“Please, I can’t stay here.” I cry as loudly as I can, “There are people I have left behind who are suffering because of me. Let me go back and make it better.”
It acknowledge my request, sending me back through the immeasurable distance and time to where I had been. Before I return it tells me a secret truth I cannot contain within myself. At once I am back in the room with the Mara, the memory of the other place a fading dream. The only thing that has returned with me is the sense of purpose I’d discovered.
It is as if no time at all had passed while I had been in the other place. Even with the last vestiges of the experience fade from my memory I feel altered by the experience. Under the gaze of the woman with the cruel eyes I feel no pain. My body feels refreshed, the damage from my fall completely healed.
“I think it worked,” she says to the man on her right, his expression one of silent awe.
I grin across the table at her, my confidence completely returned, “I think it did too.”