You’re a liar.

Lisheva Durasoona

 

Ionas sprawled out in the corner of the room, under the stairs, trusting the shadows to hide his wakefulness. He watched, unblinking, as Sarea and Gregor ate. Waited, silent, for his old friend to go back out into the workshop and for Sarea to doze off in her chair. He kept his eyes on her. The blue-white of his dream spell blossomed in her bright yellow aura, and something else came with it. A small, dark blot, like a beetle at the heart of a flower.

He frowned.

“I’m sorry,” he said out loud. “I have to be sure.”

He traced a rune in the air with a smoking finger, calling up the tendril of a connection that kept her running through his memories in her sleep. He sighed, closing his eyes. “And now I have to sleep,” he muttered, head back against the wall. “Fun.”

:-#-:

He stood in a tunnel of crystal, a thousand fractured faces showing a thousand different things. He turned, admiring himself. Every single reflection showed a shattered piece of a different whole – the rags of his clothes after his second visit to the Wall, the jaunty colours he’d worn before that, the sober plainness after. One or two had his ceremonial robes from when he’d been Grand Warlock, a mass of beautiful scarlet, and here and there he caught glimpses of things that might be.

His face stayed the same.

“And there’s you,” he said, to the shadow of a little boy waiting behind him.

“You shouldn’t be here,” the boy said.

Ionas shrugged expansively. “No one should be here. Trust a ten year old prodigy to find the impossible. The Maze of Time.” He laid a hand against the crystal. Cold to the touch, just as he remembered. “But I’m not here for fun.”

“She won’t see you,” the boy warned. Ionas glanced back. The boy glared up at him. No one should have to see themselves from the outside, he thought. That stare stunned him, dark blue eyes and a shock of wild brown hair, too-old knowledge on a child’s face. Nothing that’d unsettle him, he’d seen far, far worse, but…

Not that he’d get anywhere if he offended himself.

“I’m not here for her,” he said. “Is there something here that shouldn’t be?”

The boy gave him a look that said are you stupid? “I’m looking at one,” he sad flatly.

“Something else,” Ionas sighed. “Something… like a demon.”

The boy wrinkled his nose. “There’s that blackness that stinks, like old Mary’s stupid cabbage soup. I can keep it off her but it’s following her around. It isn’t happy. Something like that?”

Ionas nodded. “Take me to her,” he said.

The maze’s passages were nothing like he remembered them. He’d ran it often enough, trying to escape. Left turns that should be right, dead ends shifting and moving. That was the risk when you shared a memory. A different perspective changed anything. But the boy knew his way. If his young ghost got lost, someone else would be in charge of the dream. The many faces and clothes and colours shifted in a rainbow around him, echoes of past and future and present. If he could trust them to tell the truth, he might even stop and look closely.

“I shouldn’t warn you, but I will,” the boy said abruptly. “She’s really quite pretty.”

“Well, yes,” Ionas said. “In a self-contained way -”

The tunnel led into a vast chamber he’d never seen before, full of crystals large as mirrors. Sarea, stood in the middle, looked no different to earlier today, but her hair was bound back with the ribbons from her necklace, a bright delight. Ionas moved into the room, turning to look. His reflections stopped here. Hers took over the room, bright to dark, light to shadow. He spun on his heel, trying to take it all in. Three weeks in her company and he hadn’t imagined she had this dazzling show of possibility already.

“She trusts me,” the boy said, disdain colouring his voice. Sarea twisted around.

“Where do I go next?” she said, and it took a moment for Ionas to realise she wasn’t talking to him. Her coat didn’t flare when she moved. Such a waste of a good dramatic moment.

“Where do you think you should go?” the boy said, putting his head to one side.

She frowned. “Anywhere. The hunt is coming, and there’s a kind of shadow following me. I walk and walk and I keep finding my way back here. It’s a dead end.”

The boy nodded. “The way out isn’t always forwards,” he said. “There’s countless doors out of here. All you have to do is choose.”

“The reflections?” she said, looking back at herself over her shoulder. “But they’re all different.”

A rumbling filled the room. Her eyes opened wide in pure terror. Ionas decided that she’d never wear that face, not if he could help it. It rocked him to the core. It shouldn’t be, those were the words for it. She turned about and ran into the nearest reflection.

The rumbling stopped.

“That’s cheating,” Ionas said to the boy.

“It gets her a step further. She’s never even heard of the fey folk.” The boy gave him the you’re an idiot look again. “Why give her this memory?”

Ionas shook his head. “It taught me a lesson,” he said. “This shadow. Where is it?”

“Coming,” the boy said. “It can’t follow her that closely. I make sure of it.”

Sure enough, a dark shape came into the crystal chamber a moment later. It had a human shape, but it’d forgotten to form feet. It walked with footless legs, a good three inches off the ground, with a stunted body and a too-large hard. It opened a formless mouth, hissing, and ran at Ionas.

He caught it by the neck, holding it at arm’s length from his body. “My memory,” he said, patting it on the head with his free hand. It had some substance, but holding it was like trying to grip a cloud. “You really should have run away.”

“Not that it could have,” the boy said, a trifle too much smug. “I’m in control here. Now take it away, would you? Sarea’s about to meet Goodfellow. Go away, both of you. That is to say…” The boy smirked up at him. “Wake up.”

:-#-:

The room had turned dark, the fire out, but Ionas was gripping a lump of sticky blackness that tried to twist the darkness into itself. He rolled onto his feet, crossing the room to the fireplace, and tossed it in the hearth. It screamed, a high squeaking sound, writhing in place.

“What is that?” Gregor said. Footsteps from the workshop. His old friend talked like a mountain but walked like a cat.

“A little piece of a demon haunting,” Ionas said. He didn’t dare look around. “They’re weak outside your mind. Can’t even move. This the part that makes all your thoughts darker, helps you to act on things you wouldn’t…”

“Like a sensible girl giving young Tolle a fist-shaped burn,” Gregor said. He laughed, the same old warm sound.

Ionas shook his head, clicking his fingers. The fire ignited white-hot, burning the black lump to black ash. “Do you have to work with those people?”

“Do you have to meddle in people’s heads?” Gregor laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “We both do things we shouldn’t, you old bastard. Don’t lose this girl like the last one.”

Ionas spun around. “Lose her? You eloped with her!”

Gregor shook his head, letting his hand drop. “Hiliane was a solid girl, but you pushed her away same as you pushed everyone else. Then you disappeared -”

“I was attacked,” he protested. “An invading empire throws everything off.” But Gregor looked through him, seeing things long gone. Ionas took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You both got to be happy,” he said. “I wouldn’t begrudge anyone that.”

“Maybe,” Gregor murmured.

“Get Sarea up to bed, would you?” He sidled past Gregor. “I wouldn’t want her to get a bad back.” If he walked a little faster, he might just –

Gregor rumbled, low and dark, “And where will you be?”

Ionas spread his hands. “Patrolling.” He ducked out of the living quarters and was out the front door – Gregor had probably locked it – before anything could call him back into that room, full of his mistakes and his friend’s old grief. Anything other than start thinking about it. He walked out back, picking up an broken cane from the grass and hefting it. Solid was good. He turned the broken point towards the wall and started drawing runes in moonlight and shadow.

“That looks boring,” Sarea said behind him, in her west side voice. “Why you doing that?”

“Always be -” He paused, frowning. Sarea? Hardly. So who?

A soft, low laugh. “Oh, you’re one of the stupid ones, aren’tcha?”

back home forward