“We’re dragging in a pair of men from New Punjab this time, Bern.” Corbin prepared the machines. Bern, leaning against the door of the lab, nodded his head indifferently. He had been present for over four hundred and fifty pulls so far. Most had gone down with a tranq and been put into their tanks without too much difficulty. He had only been called through the portal a few times to help drag someone through. This didn’t sound like it was going to be any different from last time, or the many times before that. “With some luck, we won’t miss them,” Corbin muttered more to himself then the companions in the room.
“We’re gonna get one shot at this, Corbin,” Sophia agreed with him as she tapped a line of commands into the terminal.
“Why’s so hard?” Bern asked, curious at their anxiety. It had been, if they missed a person, they just came back, searched their computer for another missing person and tried again.
“We’re picking them up right before the Grey Monster completely wastes the MidIndian subcontinent. As it stands right now, they were noted as dead in the medical reports, so if they go missing, it won’t affect the timeline adversely. We also need them to make it through the layer skips,” Corbin explained.
“Need me for anything?” Bern offered.
“Both of the men can speak English well enough. We just might need you for…one of them,” Corbin hedged. He had the print-off of the medical files stacked on a table next to him.
If anything, they’d need Bern to keep one of the men down long enough to explain things reasonably. He glanced at Sophia. She had prefilled a pair of green coloured syringes. Corbin cocked an eyebrow at her. That would do the trick too.
“All right, all’s go!” Ms Teslanovich signalled Corbin and Sophia. They took their spots at either side of the Radius. The shield fell away into the sides of the frame. A murky green and blue plasma took over the area. “This never gets old.” Sophia grinned up at Corbin as they pushed through the energy field to find themselves inside of a massive armoury.
A blue electric current wavered in the air, throwing plasma arks out to channel along the metal shelves. A short red-haired man’s eyes travelled with the light, flinching, waiting for it to arc through the munitions. It danced around the tubes, the powder refusing to blow.
“Fane Anson?” Corbin’s voice beckoned from inside the blue arc. He pressed through the blue portal, the energy field washing across his skin like water. Following close behind, Sophia was stunned to find their targets looking at them on the other side. The redhead stood defensively in front of a taller platinum-blonde man. The shorter man’s olive cargos and fitted black t-shirt blended into the dim armoury, though his steel blue eyes flashed in the space. The man behind him was most likely the New Punjabi prince. Sophia was only making that guess because of the rather extravagantly embroidered gold and blood-red kurta and matching pants that fit him like a glove.
“Ishan…are you seeing this?” Fane whispered, praying this was part of his dream. Ishan pressed his hand against Fane’s hip, leaving his hands free. “I’m seeing it all right, but my brain is saying it wants to melt,” he whispered, his gaze fixed on the couple coming out of the strange rip in the air.
“Ishan Orlov?” the woman pushed her way through.
“And you are?” the man at least had the wherewithal to begin asking questions.
“Corbin Ziphle and Sophia Lisgon. We need for you to come with us,” the pink-haired woman motioned them to the blue arc.
“Not happening, sister,” Fane growled.
“Zephyr is dead, Fane. And the Grey Monster has swept a burning path from Eand to Afghan in the course of four hours. You’ll be dead in the next,” the man stated bluntly. Fane drew in a rough breath, his heart determined to escape his ribcage.
“We’ve got to get you away from the city,” Fane stated to Ishan as he slowly back the man toward the door.
“You’ll be too slow for that. He’ll die, vaporized by the river, you wrapped around him; the only identifier’ll be the serial number on the plate in your head,” Corbin stated flatly.
“How can you know that!” Fane hissed.
“We’re a few years ahead of your time. This Grey Monster starts a war that is going to destroy this world, and we need you!” Sophia yelled as a boom shook the whole palace.
“Shit…it’s here…” Corbin looked up at the ceiling.
“Did we…” Sophia looked at him.
“Calculated the Meridian just an hour off,” Corbin admitted.
“Ah, fuckin’ hell! You two, here, now!” Sophia screamed at them. Fane didn’t know what was happening, but the creeping wet tentacle feel across his skin was enough to have him pulling Ishan to the couple.
“What about -” Ishan asked as Sophia pulled him to the blue arc of light.
Corbin grabbed Fane’s arm and heaved him into the portal. “No more time!” he shouted. They found themselves in a large lab-looking room as a loud phoom burst through the room, a bright searing light and rubble bouncing against the blue barrier. The prince and the bodyguard looked around, startled. Blue cylinders clung around the perimeter, each encasing a body in stasis.
Corbin dropped Fane’s arm and sank to a stool at a large black-topped table. A series of monitors and chords fell from the table in a massive cascade. Fane looked down and followed the line of the chords to an eight-foot-tall white metal ring. The centre had closed down a metal iris, shutting off the blue light. Fane turned to look at Ishan. “Tell me this is just one of my bad dreams,” he pleaded quietly in the space.
Sophia approached them with a stethoscope. “Nope, those dreams you have aren’t dreams, just that fuckin’ creature looking for a way into this world,” she bit off. “Here, sit down,” she pointed at a pair of chairs.
“What do you mean by that!” Fane demanded. Ishan went and sat down, waiting for the adrenaline in his system to give him a break.
“You really didn’t know?” Sophia asked as she approached the man, reaching out to touch the side of his head. He shifted away from her, drawing the dagger up to block her hand. She stepped into his line faster than he expected. She grasped his wrist and spun. He spun with her, pushing himself over her, freeing his wrist and retaining possession of the knife. His head began spinning. He looked down, disoriented as the floor tried to seep up to greet him. A large green tube with a short needle stuck out of his wrist. “Wha the…” he dropped into a black void.
“Prince?” Fane peeled his eyelids open. He found himself on cold concrete. His head was splintering. Throbbing ran up his temples. He clenched his jaw and ground his teeth. He looked around the dim room. A pair of crossed legs sat next to him. He followed the legs up to his prince. The man was watching him with a gentle smile. Ishan was holding his hand. “Right here, Fane. Just woke up myself.” The man squeezed his hand gently. Then the world started to come back to him in the same manner as walking onto a rail line and getting smacked by a bullet train. He sat up, riding through the dizzy spell. He reached for his back sheath. His knife was at the tips of his fingers. “Where are they,” he hissed.
“He finally awake?” A man with utterly long white hair leaned his hip against a backlit door frame. Fane met the man’s eyes. He was a challenger. A right brumby. “Who are you?” Fane eased into a crouch in front of Ishan.
“Bern a’ the Fyskar. Ye’re lowlander. What’s y’er clan?” the man stated matter-of-factly. Fane could feel his piercing eyes crawl across his skin.
“Nae clan I kin ta, Bern, jus’ born ‘n raised.” Fane shifted his feet, testing, tasting the air. Ishan raised an eyebrow. Fane’s skin practically crackled. Hairs raised along his arm. He couldn’t quite shake the feeling he was being looked down on.
“Y’er name?” Bern pressed.
“Fane Anson.” He pressed the release on the safety latch of his knife. Why had they left the knife with him?
“Ah’d be leave’n that poker be, if Ah were ye,” Bern cautioned.
“Give me a good reason,” Fane cautioned, seething, barely containing a desire that ran through his arms. Ishan had seen this before. This could get bloody, fast.
“Ye’r nae a prison’r,” Bern stated flatly, motioning to the lit hall. Fane twitched. He hadn’t expected that. He watched the highlander warily as he stood up to his full height, which wasn’t much compared to the man standing in front of him.
Fane pressed the clip back on the knife at his back, securing it. He offered his hand to help Ishan up, keeping his body in front of the prince, his eyes never leaving Bern. “Cautious lad, ain’t ye?” Bern mused as he backed away from the door frame into the hall, knowing better than to turn his back on the will ‘o the wisp.
Ishan followed Fane’s lead. Fane eased out to the hall and looked around. He was in a facility of some kind. It stank of new drywall and metal. He checked his periphery. They were in some kind of warehouse. That was his bet. The hallway proportions were just off enough to not be standard construction.
“Where are the other two?” Fane tried his best not to growl, but it forced his voice to be rough.
“Waitin’ f’r ye in the canteen,” the man answered, careful with the unusual word. Fane glanced at the man again. Where had he come from in the highlands to have never used the word canteen?
They followed Bern through a set of corridors before they entered a large room with windows overlooking a massive work floor. Fane sucked in a breath. The area was covered in machinists and individuals in white lab coats. A huge spaceship of sorts was being assembled. The hull was a brilliant iridescent black and blue. What was this place?
The man and woman who had pulled them into the blue light were sitting in a pair of chairs turned to face the window. They glanced up at a noise from the highlander. “Bern! I see you got them up, thank you.” The woman with pink hair smiled happily.
“Careful, Sophia, the lad’s jumpy.” Bern walked over to a coffee pot and filled a paper cup with the brown liquid. He leaned up against the counter and downed the liquid. Must not be that hot.
“Not a kid, Bern,” Fane grouched at the man.
“Ye look it,” the man retorted.
Fane ground his teeth. Now was neither the time nor place. He turned from the man, though his instinct was to put the prince as far from the highlander as possible.
“Come look at this, Fane! Ishan, you’ll find this interesting.” Corbin motioned for them to join him at the window.
Fane stiffened. He shot a look to Ishan. “Did you talk to them?” he asked gently, knowing that Ishan could have done that while he was asleep. Ishan frowned and shrugged. He didn’t know how these two knew them.
“Didn’t mean to lay you out for so long, but I read in your file that you might be a bit trigger-happy and didn’t want you tearing up the jump room.” Corbin smiled, pointing at a set of manila envelopes on the desk.
“Do you work with Abedelli?” Fane didn’t make a move toward the man.
“No, no, he’s been dead for a couple years now. We got your files off of a server that hadn’t quite been compromised during the rising,” Corbin explained nonchalantly.
“Years…?” Fane wasn’t sure what the man was on about.
“It’s not the same time you came from,” Bern elaborated.
“What do ye mean, ‘it’s not the same time?’” Fane pressed.
“Mean that blue cloud you went through transported you ahead of your time by a few years.” Bern threw his empty cup in the trash. He watched the four people at the other end of the room. The platinum blonde was refined and carried himself like royalty. Fane and Sophia had called him a prince. The redhead must be a guardian of some kind to the man. The prince took to his body direction with calm acceptance, not questioning the spitfire. Bern was intrigued.
“We had been told that you were the catalyst for the Grey Monster rising. At least, that’s what those records show.” Corbin pointed at the envelopes again.
“Catalyst?” Fane was beginning to feel like a parrot.
“You weren’t aware of it?” Sophia asked, her eyes going round.
“I don’t even know what Grey Monster you’re talking about. I only just heard about it this morning over the radio,” Fane protested.
“That was a few years ago, Mr Anson. The Grey Monster has almost wiped out the entirety of the Euro-Asian continents. It appears to currently be trapped by land, but I’m not going to dismiss the possibility that it can enter the oceans,” Corbin elaborated. “You were created to bring in the Grey Monster.” He stated with distaste, his eyes burning holes into the man.
“You want me dead?” Fane hissed at Corbin, calming the flow of electricity in his bones. Ishan’s hand settled at his waist, and he dodged a glance. Fane’s hand came up to point a blade at Bern’s jugular as the large man’s hand settled on his forehead.
Crackling pain shot straight through his heart. He stumbled and fell into a dark pit. His lungs contracted as a roar began in his head. “What kind of demon are you?” A deep voice asked from in the void. Slowly light crept around the edges of his vision. His muscles contracted. Every scar itched and burned. His sight cleared slowly. He found himself on a beach, the smell of fish and ocean waves swamping his senses.
“Y’er’s,” Fane spat as he glanced around, quickly spotting the white-haired man. The man was dressed out in a bizarrely coloured kilt of white, sky blue and lavender and very little else. Bands of red tattoos circled his upper arms. His white hair was tied back in a thick braid.
“Where are we?” demanded Fane.
“Corbin says it’s a telepathic plane; he likes to call it a void.” Bern pointed up at his head. “‘owever, ye’re somethin’ different.” Bern tilted his head to regard the man. “He said that the bloodline had died out. Who are ye ‘n where’re the rest ‘a the Fyskar?” Bern approached Fane.
“What’re ye on about?” Fane slid away from the man, falling into a defensive stance.
“Ye’ve the taint a White Horse about ye. Ye cannae tell me that yer mum and pap diddnae instruct ye in our ways.” Bern descended upon him.
“Got no memory of a mum or pa.” Fane held his ground. He had been stripped of his armaments in the space. This would be through fists and feet if the man tried anything.
“Ye seem awful bent on protectin’ y’er Prince,” Bern regarded him with curiosity.
“Y’er nae gunna touch him,” Fane barked.
“I’m nae interested in him,” Bern smiled amiably, trying to disarm the man. Fane flinched. A cold pick ran through his side. Bern watched the twitch curiously. “I donnae mean ye harm, Fane Anson,” he placated gently.
“Then what do ye mean?” Fane bristled.
“I mean to find out who ye are.” Bern reached out once more, his reach seeming to cross space in a flash. His hand wrapped around his forehead once more. Bern plunged into the depths of Fane’s subconscious, looking for his void.
The highlander snatched his hand away from Fane’s forehead in the cafeteria only half an instant after contact. Fane’s pupils and irises flashed silver. An icy chill spread through the room, the windows frosting over. Corbin shifted back in his chair as his heart beat faster. Ishan pulled Fane to his chest. “The hell did you do to him!” Ishan shouted at Bern, who took another step away from Fane.
“Corbin, who is this man?” Bern demanded.
“His medical files refer to him as Subject 15, a known Fane Anson. He was taken in by the military medical ward as a project to bring about the Grey Monster.” Corbin scrambled for the documents.
“He’s Fyskar,” Bern seethed. He couldn’t take his gaze away from the small man’s eyes. “What’id they do ta him?” The white-haired man bit out between clenched teeth. He had never encountered such a void. He swallowed, willing himself to not vomit up the coffee he had just downed.
“Fyskar!? You’ve gotta be joking, Bern. He doesn’t fit your genetic profile. Ishan’s the one who’s related to you as a multi-times great-grandchild. Fane isn’t related. We did the sequencing,” Sophia protested as she rifled through papers. She dragged out her papers and paled as she read through the file once more. “He isn’t related. See. He has a partial match to one of the vials in Eoin’s tomb, not to your DNA.” She looked up at Bern in confusion.
“Which one?” he pressed as he backed away from the bodyguard.
“The male with the light brown hair.” Sophia handed him the paper with the graphs. He stared at it in confusion and handed it back to her.
“How is he related to Bercilack?”
“Partial relation. Bercilack, if that’s who’s hair is in the vial, has a first cousin that is the main relation to Fane here.”
“Impossible. Bercilack’s father Drostan and Rory were the only ones left of that line. Bercilack was the only one born to the line, and his mother was Caointiorn. Rory never had a kid with Fenella.”
Sophia wasn’t sure who all Bercilack was listing, but she could follow the genetic relations she saw mapped out in front of her on the paper. “He doesn’t share the same sequence with Eoin or Bercilack’s mothers. Different woman, Bern. Rory had a kid with someone else, it looks like.” Sophia reiterated her point by circling a set of marks on her paper. Bern turned to the bodyguard as the blood drained from his face.
Fane watched them warily. His skin crackled and itched. His head felt like it was shattering. The rage in his gut was tinged with cold fire.
“He’s not White Horse, though. Rory’s line never bore a White Horse in all the years we could trace. Does he dye his hair?” Bern demanded of Ishan as another thought burst through his senses.
Ishan looked at him, confused. “Carpet matches the drapes is all I know,” Ishan’n fingers held more tightly to Fane’s side.
“Impossible…” Bern breathed. He had never seen a White Horse with red hair. This was not a good thing. He flicked a glance between Corbin and Ishan and licked his bottom lip momentarily. This was very bad.
“Is there a problem, Bern? What is he doing to our windows?” Corbin asked worriedly.
“Legend from a’fore receivin’ the land in the Isle. There were those a’ us who fought ‘gainst the legions. They…Red Hares are dead! They died out fightin’ the Romans,” protested Bern.
“Bern, what’s a Red Hare?” Sophia demanded.
“This is bad…this is really bad. Get him out of this room, now!” Bern commanded Ishan. The prince blinked up at him, startled. “Take that hall out a’ this door n’ down ta the exit doors. There’s land on that end a’ the building. Find a shaded spot where the soil is cold. Bury ‘is hands in the ground, now!” Bern pointed Ishan out of the building.
Corbin and Sophia rose in unison. “What is going on, Bern?” Sophia scuttled after the fleeing form of Ishan, pulling Fane along. “Outside, just, outside now!” Bern followed Corbin and Sophia down the hall and out the door.
Ishan shoved the door open to a humid gust of air and the deeply mulched scent of palm trees. The asphalt at the door was cracked and rust stained. On the other side of the parking lot was a grassy field that was used as a reservoir. Fane collapsed on the grass, burying his hands in the unmowed tendrils. He drew in a painful breath. Ishan put himself behind Fane, knowing it would worry him less.
Bern, Corbin, and Sophia watched unsteadily as a patch of frost deadened the grass around Fane. “What happened to him? There was nothing in the files saying he could do that,” Sophia asked Corbin. Corbin shook his head. He hadn’t seen anything that would indicate he could do what he was doing.
“Donnae release him, whate’er ye do,” Bern directed Ishan. He sat down at the edge of the grass, providing Fane with more than plenty of space. He waved Corbin and Sophia down to sit next to him.
Ishan rested his hand on Fane’s shoulder gently, not wanting to get in the way if possible. Fane tried to draw in a steadying breath. He watched the grass around his knees frost over. He couldn’t help the feel of razor blades slicing across his skin like fire. The lightness of Ishan’s hand, though, comforted the pain. He could focus on that one spot on his arm. He didn’t want the frost spreading to Ishan. It took several willing moments for the chill to fall away from him, for his bones to stop arcing electricity.
“Fane?” Ishan drew the man’s attention. His bodyguard’s soft blue eyes were iridescent silver, but they met the prince’s amber eyes. “What can I do to help?” he asked quietly. Fane’s lips trembled. His brow lined with sweat. Ishan could read pain around his eyes. “Easy, easy,” Ishan softly pulled Fane to him, willing the man to ease from his guarded position. Fane resisted the press for a second before allowing Ishan to comfort him.
Corbin shifted, wanting to get closer. Bern restrained him stiffly. Corbin looked up at the white-haired man curiously. Bern shot him a stern look. “Ye wanna die t’day? ‘Cause ‘e’ll guarantee it,” he hissed quietly. Fane’s gaze flicked to Bern, but he was starting to lose his stamina.
“What is going on, Bern?” Sophia whispered. She felt like they were trying to approach a wounded dog on the freeway and were trying not to get hit by a truck or bit by the dog. Fane’s slicing glance shifted between Corbin and Sophia before a tremble ran through his spine. The world dimmed around the edges. Sophia watched as Fane’s body slumped into Ishan’s as he collapsed. Ishan held him close, his fingers brushing his arm rhythmically, reassuringly.
“Wanna explain what you just did to my boyfriend?” Ishan seethed. He wasn’t as worried about Corbin being a problem, but Sophia had outwitted Fane in the small space, and Bern was fast on his feet. The fact that the big man had gotten them out of the warehouse and sat way away from them told him that there was more to this matter than just a possible abduction.
“Can we move closer?” Corbin asked Bern.
“Nae yet,” Bern calmed the man. He was waiting for the will ‘o wisp to be at more ease. Though his eyes were closed, and he leaned into the cockle-coloured man, he was not completely unconscious and probably would not willingly allow himself to drift off.
“That is a Red Hare-” Bern started.
“His name is Mr Anson by you,” Ishan interrupted the man.
Bern bowed his head deferentially to the reprimand. “I mean nae offence. He’s a Red Hare Horse a’ the Fyskar. Though, how he came ta be here so many years af’er the loss a’ the Fyskar, I ken as anyone’s guess. His kind shoulda died out at least a thousand years a’fore my time. Ye understand what I can do, right, Corbin?” Bern asked the man at his side.
Corbin bobbed his head in a so-so way. “You can communicate through skin contact. You can pull me into your mind, or you can share feelings by touching another person and myself. You can even take memories from me. You can allow me to feel your varying emotions through contact,” Corbin summarized, though he was aware part of that explanation was for the benefit of the Indian man sitting out in the field with the walking ball of death in his lap.
“Now, I’ve never met an actual Red Hare, but the legends say that Red Hare Horses can project their feelin’s without touch. This donnae sound bad, other than f’r understandin’ that Red Hares travelled in herds, bands of soldiers that could take out battalions in one step, leavin’ behind blood fallin’ like snow, no bones to tell of the dead. Volatile, explosive, guarded.
“Innately one with a’ devil; fire ‘n ice as their body and soul. They’ld be sent away from the tribe ta be raised when they turned five in order to help them control themselves and keep the tribe safe,” Bern elaborated. Fane listened quietly to the superstition. It sounded too fantastic, but a running throb burst through his head at the mention of blood and snow. His chest constricted at a scurrying thought.
“Fane?” Ishan whispered under his breath. He had felt the man curl into himself only a fraction, nothing visible, but a tensing of his muscles beneath his black shirt.
“What’d ye find, old man,” Fane’s voice rattled roughly in his chest as he fought the constriction.
“I’d like ta take ye back into my void, ta help explain, Mr Anson,” Bern offered softly. He made no move to change his position, and he rested a steadying hand on Sophia and Corbin, willing them to make no move. This was a delicate situation.
“Why?” Fane felt safe in Ishan’s arms; he had no desire to leave them and return to that beach.
“Nae one has taught ya how ta use yer talents proper, ‘ave they? Ye said ye donnae remember a mum or pap?” Bern asked him.
“I don’t have any memory of talents like what you’re talking about,” Fane muttered.
A thought occurred to Ishan, though, of a conversation he had with Zephyr back in the armoury. “Sanguis,” Ishan barely breathed, not realizing he spoke as he did so.
Fane’s glance flicked to Ishan before settling back on Bern. “Why does my head feel like it’s splitting, old man?” Fane growled.
Bern looked a little embarrassed. “I – I think I touched somethin’ I shouldnae have…?” he offered apologetically.
“Fix it,” Fane practically spat. “I live in pain most of the time, but this is exhausting,” he admitted.
“Is it all right if I approach ye?” Bern asked permission. Fane pulled the blade at his back. Bern flinched, gritting his teeth. Fane placed the handle in Ishan’s hand. He glanced back at Bern and sighed heavily. “You made the mess; clean it up.” Fane sat up more fully, trying to clear his head. Ishan pressed himself against Fane’s back, the blade directed at Bern. Bern rubbed his neck uncertainly before standing slowly. He approached the man with caution and eased in front of him with glacial calm. He had never encountered a Red Hare, and if legends were anything to go by, he was not in the mood to find himself dead in a fine mist of blood.“Is this all right?” Bern asked from where he sat, an arm’s distance from Fane.
Fane glared at him, not entirely sure. He knew Ishan could at least stab the man at that range, but he didn’t like having anyone he didn’t know that close to the prince. He drew in a breath and gritted his teeth. He nodded.
“I’m gonna lay my hand out. I’d like f’r ye ta take it, if ye’r comfortable with that.” Bern laid out an upward-facing palm on his knee. Fane stared at the appendage for a good minute before reaching out and touching the calloused palm.
This time the drop into the void was less nauseating, but it still ripped across his senses in a displeasing way. He stood on the beach with Bern. They looked out on the lapping waves. Bern allowed the silence to draw out. He could feel the rippling and tearing of emotions and pain that swirled around the man.
“Ah’m sorry f’r puttin’ ye on edge and invadin’ yer space,” Bern apologized gingerly. Fane watched him cautiously. “Ah have nae had anyone do that ta me in a long time, ‘n I know it is worse as Fyskar ta have another invade yer void. It can be quite disconcertin’,” he hedged. Fane waited quietly.
“Do ye know what’s happened to ye?” Bern sat down on a log, leaving himself vulnerable. Fane shrugged, turning to look at the man. “Corbin and Sophia donnae mean ye harm, neither do I. We…I know I didnae start off with ye well.” Bern was making an effort, but the cold wall in front of him didn’t seem to be budging.
“Ye can feel him around ye, right?” Bern asked after another silent minute. Maybe a different tact would break the wall for him. Fane looked at him uncertainly. “I want ta instruct ye on pullin’, but I donnae think that is completely wise as a’ yet. ‘owever, feelin’, though harder than pullin’, would help right now, I think,” Bern half explained to Fane, half hoped to himself.
“If pullin’s easier, why not start there?” Fane finally broke his mute silence.
Bern considered his thoughts first. “I donnae want you to break,” he admitted.
Fane held Bern’s eyes disdainfully. “Try me,” he snarled. He was itching for a fight. A warmth spread across his chest. He could sense Ishan there at the edges of his mind.
Bern swallowed and shook his head only a fraction. He was not happy with what that would mean. “Do ye trust the man at yer back?”
“More than most,” Fane conceded.
Bern raised an eyebrow. “Ye seem awful protective a’ him,” he pointed out.
“‘n it’s gonna stay that way,” stated Fane.
“Do ye want him knowing ye?” Bern asked.
“How do you mean?” Fane returned the question.
“May I bring him into this space with us?” Bern asked. Handling this man was like handling a handful of needles, doable, but prickly.
“And that will help these talents?” Fane sneered, still not sure what the man was on about.
“My end goal is actually f’r ye to pull Corbin into yer void, if ye must know,” Bern offered. Fane shot him a whithering glance. “I’d rather do that when ye can competently bring in yer…what is he to ye? A master, a chief of some kind?” Bern asked, not sure of what the state of the relationship was. The man had called Fane a boyfriend, but that didn’t quite mean anything to him.
“You speak the old tongue. Leanan. He’s my leanan,” Fane admitted freely.
Bern looked up at him in surprise at the honesty. “That explains it.” Bern sighed, just an edge of relaxation seeping across his shoulders. “That’s good then.””
“Why do I need to be able to pull Corbin?” Fane sat down near the man on the log.
“I donnae understand what yer healers have done to yer void? Ye’re going to be his way of space jumping…somehow. I donnae really understand all his high blether. Somethin’ ‘bout the portal the Grey Monster came through is supposed to help him get his ship through to another galaxy. He’s predictin’ the end a’ the world ‘n has gathered up a large amount a’ people n’ froze them…something like that. He’s tryin’ ta save the human race n’ ye seem to be the key to gettin’ us there,” Bern elaborated.
“And what does this have to do with the medical treatments I received at the military hospital?” Fane pressed, a creeping uneasiness rocking his gut.
“I cannae leave yer void the way it is, but…this is hard ta explain when I cannae talk ta ye in yer space.” Bern rubbed at the back of his head. “I need f’r Corbin ta see it. He needs ta know what he’s doing, ‘n ye do too.” Bern stood up.
“What do I need to do?” Fane acquiesced.
“I’m goin’ ta bring yer prince. That means I am going to touch him. Do ye understand?” Bern was not going to set off the Red Hare if he could help it. Fane nodded, knowing that any more threats directed at the white-haired man were needless.
The ocean darkened, going grey for only a second before it brightened once again. Ishan stood, startled, in the waves of the beach. Bern sat again at the log to give them space. Fane went out to meet Ishan.
The waves seeped up his cargoes and dampened his compression top and t-shirt. Ishan, though, for having been brought into a wave, was dry as a bone. He wore a deep burgundy kurta edged with fine gold. A shawl of the same colour and embroidery draped across his shoulder and arm. His pants were tight fitting at the ankle, and his jutis shone gold against the sand.
“Where am I?” Ishan asked.
“In Bern’s head. He calls this a void. Says I can do it to,” Fane murmured to the man.
“It’s my bein’, my centre. It’s where I feel the most comfort, my truest self. My surroundin’ and clothin’ reflect my most calm. Yer Prince’s void is unique ta him, with a room or landscape that he feels at home in, and the clothes he wears is reflective of a moment of joy or comfort that has stuck with him.
“I look out over the bright days a’ my homeland. Everyone a’ us has this spot, our dreamin’ plane, where we go ta when we’re all alone. I’d welcome ye, Prince, but ye willnae be here f’r too long,” Bern motioned to the beach in front of him.
“Can ye feel his hand on yer’s?” Bern called out to the men. Fane sought his nerve endings in the void. It was there, right at the edges of his senses. He nodded, still sceptical. They approached the log.
“Prince,” Bern directed the man to sit across from him. “Mr Anson,” he pointed at a spot next to Ishan. “I will need ye to do absolutely what I tell ye, without budgin’. This is dangerous, ‘n I donnae think any a’ us wanna get hurt t’day, right?” Bern spoke solemnly.
“Long as you’re not threatening him, I don’t see that happening.” Fane studied Bern quietly.
“Ye’re the threat here, Mr Anson. I need f’r ye to be aware of yer position. I went into yer void…uninvited…and touched somethin’ I shouldnae ‘ave, n’ that almost set ye off, without yer awareness. Prince, whate’er happens, whate’er ye see or hear or feel, ye donnae let go a him, do ye understand?” Bern demanded absolute obedience.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” the Prince wrapped his fingers with Fane’s.
Bern breathed in a frustrated breath. This was not going to be a good time. He closed his eyes for a minute, waiting, concentrating. “Mr Anson, close yer eyes. Yer leanan is sitting next ta ye. ‘e’s there n’ nae goin’ anywhere. It’s all right. I need f’r ye to take yer time. Feel the space ye’re in. Feel the connections that have yer prince sitting here next to ye. Feel the connection that I have with ye, keeping ye here. Find it, memorize every detail.” Bern paused between statements, slow and methodical with his directions, his voice soothing, hypnotizing.
Fane’s grip on Ishan’s hand hardened for a second as he willingly closed his eyes, leaving himself vulnerable. He sucked in his breath and reached with every sense of his being. A roar at the base of his skull tried to dampen his efforts, but he pressed through it. He reached through the darkness behind his eyelids and fought through a gripping, yanking pain that pulled at his flesh and muscles. The warmth at his hand kept him grounded as he struggled. Slowly his mind tuned to that warmth. Unassuming and gentle, it radiated into his palm, through his arm. He followed the line as it wove its way up through his bones into his skull.
The darkness burst around Ishan and Bern as they were swallowed into a murky grey. The first distinct sound was a muffled scream, barely noticeable; it grated at the nerves, raising hairs along their arms. A drip, slow and even, was much louder in the echo. A tang of copper and trimethylamine pitched their stomachs sideways. There was barely enough light to make out the room they were in. The cold was dank and moulded. It felt closed off, close, but it echoed like a hollowed cavern. A rattle above their heads directed their attention upward. “Donnae lose yer connection,” Bern instructed, aware that Ishan’s eyes had fallen upon the noise.
Soft peach-colored hair tumbled in rivulets, caught up in wires and chains. A deep red liquid dripped from the tips. Fine porcelain skin clung to razor wires, supported by hooks, bolts, and piercings. The body was snagged up in a disorienting rat’s nest of sharp metal. Blood from the cuts and gashes seeped from the wounds to travel along his legs to drip singularly from his toes, the steady beat pooling into a deep, bottomless pool. Iridescent red rippled at each slow drop. Something rode below the tension of the liquid. An uneasy sensation of a creature slithering around them crept along their senses.
Fane’s eyes slowly opened into the darkness. Ishan marvelled at their glow, the blue almost silver against the gloom. A soft smile crossed Fane’s lips. He was strung out and in pain. It took all his effort to breathe through the restraints. His right hand willingly curled around one single rope. He held it tightly, the comfort of the golden loop taking the strain from the wire only just.
Ishan swallowed hard. His heart was ripping apart. “Fane!” Ishan shouted up to the man. He looked around hurriedly. He had to find a way to help him down.
“This is what I need Corbin ta see,” Bern expressed to both of them. Fane regarded the man indifferently. He sighed.
“Why, Bern?” Ishan asked as he walked around on the tension of the liquid.
Fane watched the two in his space, but he felt distant, adrift. “Donnae touch the wires, Prince.” Bern cautioned Ishan from reaching for a particularly close strand.
“We have to get him out of this!” Ishan protested.
“It’ll set him off. What happened in the cafeteria, he couldnae control it. These wires, this pain he’s caught up in, it’s barely holdin’ him up there, but it’s the only thing holding him above an abyss. Ye’re the only one taking his weight off those hooks.” Bern pointed to the golden rope. Ishan studied the length that disappeared up into the depths of the cavern. It was wrapped about Fane’s wrist. He had a death grip on it.
The screaming beat at them, and their hearts paced to meet it. The room chilled, the humid wet sticking to their skin. Fane glanced down at the pool, too aware of what was coming. Terror warped the space, and it all began going askew. A muffled groan escaped him. It was the best he could do to forewarn them. Fane pulled against his restraints, the wires popping and zinging in the chamber. Blood flowed thicker into the pool.
“Back, get back.” Bern pushed Ishan away from the area directly under the man. The tension of the liquid pooled and burbled. The screaming grew louder. A pinching headache buried into Ishan’s head. Grey tentacles burst from the pool, fog pouring from it to shroud the space in a cloying sweet sourness.
“The fuck is that?” Ishan demanded as he pressed against Bern’s restraining arms. He couldn’t stand by and watch. He had to get to Fane. Fane watched the tentacles, terrified, as the slime pulled its way around the wires. He whimpered. “Fane, Fane! Wake up, Fane!” Ishan demanded desperately. The slime burned, leaving the skin red and inflamed. Fane could only take so much before he willingly dissolved the connection.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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