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I sampled some of the other stones there, assuming I had already triggered the one trap laid for me. But I did not count on another type of trap, indirectly created by a previous incarnation.
I stood before another sensory stone. The base of this aquatic blue stone had been sculpted so it appeared to have melted into the pedestal it rested upon. A stream of perfect azure tears dripped down the sides, framing the inscription beneath the pedestal: "Longing."
As I placed my hands upon the stone, its surface rippled beneath my touch. A chill washed over my arms, like plunging my hands into a mountain stream.
As I closed my eyes, I blinked and re-opened them - my eyes were brimming with tears, and I was overcome with a terrible sensation of *drowning.* As the sensation rolled through me, there was a stirring in my breast, a *hunger,* poisonous like a serpent, BITING into my heart, until I felt as if my breast would *explode.* I wanted desperately to steady myself, focus, but all that came to my eye was tears...
I raised my hand to wipe away my tears - my hands were soft, delicate woman's hands; they brushed the stray tears from my cheek, and I cupped them in my hands, each of the tears like jewels shimmering in the lights...
The lights were cast by candle-globes that drifted through my sanctuary. I had come to this place to gather my thoughts, to reflect on the past with an eye toward the future, to cleanse the mind before the coming journey. Yet... I could not *concentrate!* My thoughts remained in the present, trapped there by the terrible feeling that writhed in my breast. What did he MEAN...?!
I closed my eyes, but his words echoed in my mind, a hundred, a THOUSAND times. Would he EVER return?! The sound was a whisper, an echo: "Only you. ONLY you." Yet I HESITATED, at the brink of time's door, and he must have thought me AFRAID to go, but I was not, I was AFRAID to stay, and the fear... the serpent writhed in my breast again, its fangs biting into my heart, filling it to bursting with its *poison.* The tears came again, running down my cheeks in streams, his words echoing...
Echo: "Only you. ONLY you."
My eyes snapped open - it was HIS voice! I whirled, and I gasped; he stood, powerful, in the shadows, and he strode into the light of the drifting candled globes, and I felt the serpent writhing and DYING... he returned! His face, stern, but somewhere, in those features, I could almost see his pleasure at seeing me. After all, he returned for m-
Echo: "Only you can help me, Deionarra. But it was wrong for me to ask you for your help..."
I spoke... Deionarra... yet I, it was ME, gray-skinned like a statue, striding from the light - was I that *scarred?!* My body looked like it had been bathed in knife blades, the wounds, the tattoos, horrible - yet, I saw through DEIONARRA'S EYES, and she saw... how could she SEE me in such a way, she put a CLOAK over my features, she saw me in such *light,* such terrible longing, *light*... for she...how... could she FEEL such...?
I felt my vision tearing, doubling until I was that man striding from the light, it WAS me, but NOT me... I felt myself being TORN; it was Deionarra's experience, but at the same time, it was also *mine,* and I... what...
Echo: "I asked too much of you to accompany me, Deionarra. I have no right to place you in such danger for my sake..."
It was my words, but they were a surgeon's words, chosen with cold skill, without a TRACE of emotion. With every word, I felt myself SNEERING inside, knowing what the (stricken) girl would see next through her (longing-stained) eyes, and who - was I THAT person, that man TWISTING her with my words, not KNOWING how powerful they were to her, like bolts from a ballista, piercing her breast, her... yet, she SAW only RELIEF at my return. How... how could she FEEL... and not know I meant to...?
Echo: "I have come to ask your forgiveness, Deionarra. I shall return to you as soon as I am able -"
My vision tore again, doubling and bleeding, until I was facing myself again, trying desperately to speak, to WARN Deionarra that this was not a man, but a creature that killed for his own needs, he didn't CARE about you, Deionarra, you were a TOOL to him, a TOOL he needed to - but Deionarra spoke, and I couldn't STOP her....
Echo: "I would place myself in a *thousand* dangers, embrace eternity for you, my Love! I am *not* afraid! Listen to me -- I will accompany you, though the Planes themselves should bar the way...."
I felt myself shattering, relief and satisfaction - his SATISFACTION at her words, KNOWING she would say them, always KNOWING, and her admission of love was like the slamming of a portcullis across my heart. Trapped. She was mine, but I must be *certain,* so I drove the nail home.
Echo: "The way is dangerous. You will have to be strong... *far* stronger than you are now."
Swimming through her mind, relief, the wave of relief, the end of longing, yet LONGING for him more at his words, not noticing his manipulations... all I needed to be was strong, and his path would be as one with mine! My thoughts were like fires... for I could be strong, stronger than he knew, I knew no fear, I would DIE for him...!
Echo: "I can be strong, my Love. I will -"
Her words slid off of him like water. The serpent in her breast, the one piercing her heart with its poison had been replaced by this serpent in the flesh. She saw nothing of this, and his next words were planned, carefully, so carefully...
Echo: "I can't say if we'll succeed, Deionarra, but I'll do my best to protect you. And I will expect nothing less of the same from you. You "
" you may be required to make some *sacrifices.*" At that final, terrible, word, I felt myself being TORN apart; he meant her harm... he meant ME harm, for I was HER, and he meant to HURT her, yet I NEEDED her to be harmed, and - I wanted to SCREAM, SCREAM AT HER THAT SHE WAS IN DANGER, RUN, RUN, DEIONARRA, FOR HIS EYES UNMAKE ALL THINGS AND -
Echo: "Of course, my Love. Life is sacrifice. This I have learned."
I... she... her... I spoke the words, and in it, I felt myself dying inside. I was a spectator, and I had watched a woman die, for the words were a death sentence. Yet, still, still she spoke, unheeding, uncaring....
Echo: "I... left a legacy in my father's keeping, my Love; ask for the sixth, the third, the Kay and the 'S.' In it, I bequeathed everything to you; it's not much, but with it, I left..."
I... him... a wave of *irritation* washed over me; I clenched my teeth to prevent the irritation from crossing my features. Must she *always* continue to prattle, even when I did not *prompt* her?! Must she - but no - no, kept the irritation inside, only a trace slipped out...
Echo: "Come now, I cannot DIE, Deionarra. There is no NEED for such foolishness..."
Her... I... she was overcome with FEAR, fear that revolted me, and the fear welled up inside her... I, I as I watched him frown, and I hastened to correct him! He must know the reasons and know the wisdom behind them so he was impressed with my planning! Speak! Speak, before he turned away...
Echo: "I know I often act foolishly, my Love...but you said yourself that you CAN forget things if you are badly hurt. There are things in the legacy that could help you remember should you forget yourself."
She... I coldly regarded her through my eyes, tracing my gaze along her furrowed brow, wrinkled with worry, desperation. She had acted as I *expected*... yet there was something in what she said...
Echo: "Perhaps... yet I hope nothing in this legacy is of *value*...I do not want you to leave any things here in some safe that could be of some use on our journey."
Her illusion was shattered, just for a moment - I watched, silent, as the emotion fell to the ground, splintering like silvered glass. "...of some use..." such a casual statement, yet even Deionarra SAW, and I hoped, just for a moment, I HOPED that she SAW him for what he was... the serpent, the SERPENT......and my hope died, as in Deionnara's eyes, the emotion was rebuilt, the slivers being drawn from the ground, the illusion rebuilt, but the slight sliver of pain remained. He thought I had done something foolish! Yet, I did it for HIM! I must... must make amends, but how?! I must convince him the legacy was unimportant, but it WASN'T, it WASN'T. It was EVERYTHING...
Echo: "The legacy, my Love, it... it just has a few things to help you remem --"
The scythe of words fell on Deionarra, so quick, so sharp, I could not follow its arcing path.
Echo: "A legacy? The things you do, Deionarra... such... *romantic* gestures. No matter..."
No! She... I... Deionarra... I had driven him away again, like I did the night before! I felt the serpent stirring again, reborn, curling around my heart. There was the softest of hisses, yet he did not hear...
Echo: "Would... would you wish to leave a legacy, my Love? For yourself.. or for anyone you would want to. It might help you remember if you left something for yourself... or for the ones you loved..."
The word scythe fell again, terrible and swift. Yet this time, the illusion held, and the serpent was cloaked. The serpent was cunning, and it would not reveal itself until it struck.
Echo: "A legacy for myself? Not likely... the things I would leave for myself would not be safe in some advocate's office, Deionarra. But enough of this... I must leave."
He was leaving! I must make him remain... and the experience SWIRLED around me, terrible, the spiraling toward the final scene... the QUESTION I... she... wanted to ask, don't ask it, Deionarra! Don't ASK IT BE SILENT BE SILENT
Echo: "My Love, before you go..."
HIS ANGER HIS IRRITATION WHAT *NOW* GIRL WHAT *NOW* YOU MEWLING BANSHEE
Echo: "'Before I go?' It looks like I am in no danger of that. Come, Deionarra, can't these questions wait for the morn? There is much-"
SHE... I... SHE WAS DESPERATE DROWNING SAY IT SAY IT SAY IT AND SHE... I... SPOKE IT
Echo: "Do you *want* me to come with you, my Love?"
The rush of emotion died in my mind. This was the end. The words he... I... were about to speak were true, but the truth was not the truth she saw. There were no lies, only cold calculations. Of *course* he wanted you to come with him, Deionarra. I understood it clearly, too clearly: He had invested too much in the poor girl to let her go.
Echo: "Of course, Deionarra. I would not have asked you to come with me if I did not want your company. You *know* how I feel about you..."
There was a cold silence in his mind, then a hissing of a thought, a response sharp and deadly, like a dagger blade. The lie came swiftly, unburdened by emotion.
Echo: "I love you, Deionarra."
And I wanted to SCREAM as I felt the lie wash over her like a RADIANCE, but it was a SHADOW of TRUTH, A SERPENT'S KISS, AND HE MEANT ME HARM AND SHE COULDN'T *SEE* I WANTED TO CALL OUT BUT SHE WAS CRYING WITH JOY EVEN AS - EVEN AS -
I cried with joy... with frustration... with joy... with despair...
The emotion washed over me, like I was drowning, DROWNING, and I needed to speak, I LONGED to speak, but I could not...and...
I screamed, screamed as I tore my hands from the stone, bloody tears rushing from my eyes, running in streams down my arms, my hands, to coat the stone. Blood! Her blood! And... I couldn't WARN her... and I couldn't stop CRYING......
And suddenly, Fall-From-Grace was there, and her touch was gentle like silk, and she brushed the tears from my eyes, even as I felt the screams welling up within me. She *shhhhhhed* me, cradling my face through my bloody tears.
"I... I... can't.... bear it... I... couldn't STOP her, I WANTED to, but I couldn't do *anything*...!"
Fall-From-Grace looked into my eyes, and she nodded sadly, in understanding. "And that is the nature of *longing.* The desire for that which you cannot change or possess." She studied me, withdrawing her hand, now soaked in my blood. "Will you be all right?"
"Yes... yes... I just need a moment..." I noticed
Annah was looking at me, her hand half raised, un-moving, as if
paralyzed, unsure what to do for me.
"Very well " Fall-From-Grace stepped back. "We will continue when you are ready."
I took a breath, and tried to collect my thoughts.
As much as I wanted to hurl the memory of the experience from me, I held it fast, because I knew it was important to remember it. It was *me* in that experience... it was Deionarra's experience, but because it was me, my memories flooded me, and I could FEEL both sides at once. Who WAS I? Who was that... that *shade* of me?
I considered leaving the Festhall, but there was a chance there
might be something of use locked in some of the other sensory
stones in the hall. I would continue even if I encountered another
experience like the one I had just finished; perhaps especially
because I might encounter another such experience.
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