The Courage of Lions [iii]

TCOL-Chapter-3

The Grey was blissful at first; it was new, and mild compared to the chilling nothingness of the black before, or the cutting contrast of the monochrome web. Where he had danced up the web, Othneil now felt himself floating. It seemed ludicrous to be hovering in the air when every part of his surrounding was the same colour, so he concluded that it must be the repeated motions making him feel heady, the same way dancing with Nora had done. The same way he had felt leading her to candlelight.

His calves began to harden with the strain of the sensation, reminding Othneil of one of his first cases as a Chirugeon – a patient cursed on the battlefield, afflicted with a stomach of stone, which could only be remedied by inscribing a scripture from the stone onto another surface and uttering it, shooing it away. Thankfully Othneil had sussed the riddle quickly, despite his youth. Unfortunately he sussed quickly, too, that he now felt heavy with the pressure of falling, and the stony sensation rippling through him was the kind of nervousness only the soul could feel approaching death. This was a dream in which he was falling, but could not stir himself awake to avoid the drop for his eyes already watering, hot. The Grey grew hotter with him, not the kind of warmth that invited lips in ambient night but the kind of wars in summertime.  The encased gut of the patient, via the tightening of his torso when he had seen Nora drifting from him, manifested now into the tightening of his whole body as Grey turned to Amber turned to Red.

The shudder came before the thud. The delay of pain running through him only further stifled Othneil’s attempt to cry out in an emotional and sensual numbness. He looked around him, now, and he saw dark, dried-blood red. An occasional blemish pulsated through the far distance; tarnished beige, like a cursed cyst. Othneil convinced himself that he had landed in a living wound.

He stood up slowly, wondering if the pain of this new world would reverberate through him. So far, he continued to feel nothing. His stream of thought was perturbed by curiosity, disturbance, violence. As a darker beige blemish squirmed across his periphery, Othneil envisioned the eyes of an Orc Sorcerer, much like the one he had been tested against in his first battle. Orcs have ruled the moments Othneil craved to shred from childhood. Their glare had pulverised him into cowardice in his first real battle, and so he had run and left his parents for dead. Their laughter governed the nightmares he and his Sister had shared on their aimless journeys together. In this memory, only a few days after Othneil had returned to the camp of his ancestry and made new friends in a clan there, this spell-wielding Orc could kill them, too. His clan, the Suns of Corous, had been entrusted with rescuing something they needed to win a war that raged since Othneil’s birth. It was heavily guarded, and ferociously defended. With only a dagger in his possession, Othneil ran from one clanmate to the other, keeping them from death when struck down, while dodging shots and swords from the fierce flesh-eaters. Eventual victory aside, the eye of the Orc Sorcerer remained in Othneil’s head, always, whenever something grotesque or out of place passed Othneil’s sight.

Suddenly, the pupil of the Orc appeared. Othneil scrambled backwards, terrified that this beast would be his companion for this sickly space. After a few moments, though, it simply remained there. It had appeared in the centre of the dark blemish, forming a resemblance to a pupil and iris, but as the beige faded back to red, it remained static. A small, perfect black sphere. Gingerly Othneil approached it, expecting it to get larger and becoming more curious as it stayed the same size. Confronting it, he realised it was palm-sized. He leant in, staring in deep. He yelled in fury at what he saw, running from it. In the black sphere were white, silky, swirling lines which creating a funnelled web. This was the tunnel Othneil had danced through, and was therefore the world he had come from – trapped inside a constantly miniature sphere.

 

The Courage of Lions [ii]

TCOL-Chapter-2

Desperately, he began to claw and clamber up the lines, but they were merely light, indicators of ridges though not ridges themselves. Catching his fingernails against all the wrong edges, Othneil stepped backward and forced himself to breathe. When light had been elusive for so long, it was not surprising to pin its sudden appearance on the escape from this place. But as there had always been a floor, somehow, in the complete darkness, Othneil guessed that here the levels and tiers must similarly belong to the layers invisible.

It was the same darkness that had greeted Othneil to his old home, the darkness of unknowing, over four seasons ago now. He had abandoned his dying family in the battlefield to find his Sister, the Chirugeon, and spend their days healing instead of fighting, out in the wildernesses around their old country. He had been blessed by nothing but fortune in his first few days of returning to the village, chance encounters and victories in the field. He had indulged himself the possibility of a further miracle by setting back out into the wilderness to find his Sister and bring her into a new, forgiving world. He found his Sister dead. He wandered aimlessly, vaguely searching for mysteries to blind his guilt, and here he had found it – comeuppance had caught up with him.

Flailing his feet upward, Othneil eventually found a step, then another. When his feet had finally found themselves, he extended his arms out and felt for where to grip. Each attempted grasp slipped as the darkness seemed to curve and bend to the pressure of his hands. Othneil grunted in frustration, then felt the darkness slipping beneath his feet. He kicked upward, swerving over the webbed lines, and suddenly found his hands gripping to curves he had not yet found. The more he darted and swerved, the more the surface beneath Othneil fluctuated, swirling like pigment on the end of a brush. Yet it ascended upward to, climbing and twisting now, reaching his goal in the motions of chaos. The invisible surface created columns now. Othneil twisted himself round a full orbit, becoming another star in a night sky where the dots were joined. His feet picked up height and momentum, and there it was: he was dancing. The to and fro, the giddiness of his steps, they were the steps he had put to nervous test with Nora, seemingly long ago now. In joining the medical practise in his old village, Othneil found himself in the frequent company of one of the other nurses there. They slowly gained in trust, finding interests for the arts of dusk, of sketches by firelight, the burning cheers of the dancehall. Soon enough, they wanted to dance themselves, trying to learn their step patterns by the moonlight of a sleeping camp.

The proximity to another seemed impossible now, guarded by this path of emptiness. The rapidity of the steps reminded Othneil of his joy in Nora’s pace, the sense of adventure contained in human movement. In the adrenaline of this moment he wondered if the whole thing was a delusion playing on his mind, and in an instant he could back down into complete darkness, confined to madness. Or maybe this was the key. He could see that he was ascending further still by the white lines by his feet shrinking, until eventually they conceptualised depth, forming a towering column below him. Something snatched breath from him. Othneil realised, without daring to hesitate in his momentum, that he appeared to be floating in a giant cone of the white lines, for he could no longer see a layer of flat beneath him. He twirled around another invisible column and looked up, hoping to see the sight below in reverse, which would signify the presence of a ceiling to this cave. The reality disturbed him – all of the lines until now had been perfectly straight, but the further he rose the more they swayed and lost clarity. Now they began to merge with the black, fuzzing out and stretching, until all that was present was a grey skyline. Please, Othneil begged of this world, let this by the sky of the outside he longed for, brought closer by the desire to dance again.

The Courage of Lions [i]

TCOL-Chapter-1

It smelt of Reindeer blood. It smelt of the breeze catching the scent of buddleias. It smelt of the smouldering of molten gold and dusty burning of his bones. This place smelt of everything for the moment, because it was filled with Othneil’s memories. The only way to normalise it – filling an infinite space where, in sight and sound and space, nothing was really there.

Othneil had ventured into this space what must have been a month, two months ago, thereabouts. Several Suns must have risen and fallen since he had been here, for surely the world could not be nothing but darkness now. The only tangible sensation was that he could feel the ground, even if the ground was perpetual, black vanishing into black. There was no sensation of falling. He could keep moving forward but not up, nor down. He had forgotten any degree of vertigo he may have had walking down stairs or jumping down ledges. His arms ached from being horizontal for a little too long.

The entrance had likewise turned black quickly, depending on how long Othneil had really been in here. Something haunting had erred him here, to find the Cliff of Eyes, after travelling alone for many Suns and Moons. Although the meaning of alone had now changed: rocks, grass, outcrops and ascents would have counted for company in this place. Othneil had walked into the pit past the debris, into the darkness, and now was one with it. When everything you saw and felt was nothing, you were more of nothing than you could ever imagine.

Walking in this infinite space, Othneil truly appreciated the reality of numbness. Never had he considered, in his lowest moments, in his notions of betrayal and losing his loves, that an emotional numbness could be separated from a worldwide stilling of the senses. Nothing he had handled as a Chirugeon would have had the same effect on a patient as this cure for the outside did. Othneil had gripped and twisted the skin flaking off his collarbone a few times now, but the sensation was hard to discern between real pain and a necessary familiar memory.

This would change in the next few moments. They were long moments for Othneil, as every moment lengthened now. But the whole experience felt shorter for his rate of his coming immersion.

A dot appeared on Othneil’s horizon. His parting salt-and-chocolate hair bristled with the brush of wind. His pupil reflected the small glow of white as it widened and reached out to him, stretching before him as if he were scrambling toward a clearing out of a woodland. As a canopy would separate to let in sunlight, so the white line branched and split into lengthening shards, growing longer and closer with each heavy footfall Othneil felt from his shuddering shins. He was running after an eternity of walking. He did not care just yet where he was running to, but he was sure he would in the fullness of time. The longest white line hit his foot and suddenly what had been a purely two-dimensional branch of threads erupted into walls and a ceiling. Everywhere Othneil looked now was a web. He could at last see ways up and ways down. He instinctively turned around, but could only assume that he had tripped while running down to the line, as now the webbed wall greeted him at every angle. This, Othneil surmised, was the entrance to the Cliff of Eyes.