The Courage of Lions [ii]


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.


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