The Courage of Lions [i]


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.


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