Fane was practically buzzing. Ishan watched, baffled at the new bounding ball of energy. Ishan had seen him happily content, yes, but Fane was excited, and not in a murderous way. He slipped his arsenal into his holsters but neglected his socks and boots. His hair pooled around him in a copper curtain. His eyes shifted continuously between silver and blue. The smile that burst across his face was dazzling. Ishan couldn’t help himself from pulling the bouncing incarnation of joy into a hug before turning him loose at the door.
“Lunch?” Ishan asked, holding out a hand to Fane.
Fane glanced up at him mischievously, his teeth gleaming quickly. “I have to try something first. Come on.” He pulled Ishan down the hall.
Ishan laughed, amused at Fane’s antics. “What’s gotten into you?”
They skidded down the hall. Fane flew down the stairwell. He waited excitedly at the bottom that lead out to the machinists’ section of the warehouse. It was shorter than the spaceship assembly, clearing at three stories rather than the fifteen on the other side.
“Charlie! Oye, Charlie, got a beam clamp ‘n a swivel you don’t mind me usin’ real quick?” Fane waived down a startled mechanic. “Where’s Meril’s chalk she’s been using for her concrete mixes?” he continued on. Ishan paused, surprised that Fane knew these people. He had already made rounds in there and learned everyone’s names and rolls in the shop.
“The hell you need a beam clamp for?” Ishan called after Fane, who dashed over to the mechanic’s workstation.
“A memory.” Fane grabbed the offered hardware, flashing another smile. He could break hearts with that kind of power. Ishan’s heart stutterd. What exactly had Fane remembered about his life?
Before he knew where the man had flitted off to, Ishan was looking down at an excited Fane who was holding a fairly long length of one-inch diameter polyester rope. A small paper bowl filled with chalk powder was precariously balanced in the other hand that was also holding the beam clamp and swivel.
“Come on, come on.” Fane motioned Ishan after him as he made for the very far end of the warehouse. No one was using the better part of a thousand feet of space at that end.
“What’s this memory of yours?” Ishan called after him. Fane laid out the rope and hardware before carefully unloading his weapons. “What are you doing?” Ishan asked, puzzled, a touch nervous. Fane pulled over the length of the rope, testing its tensile strength and checked the swivel and beam clamp.
“Hey, Prince! Your guy need a lift?” a young woman asked as she drove over a scissor lift.
“Uh…Fane?” Ishan glanced over at him. Fane cleanly lept the distance to the railing. “Perfect, that’d be great.” He smiled broadly at the woman, who turned a brilliant shade of red. Ishan stood back out of the way, standing guard over Fane’s arsenal as he watched the lift go up into the rafters of the three-story hangar.
The man had no fear. He clambered his way out onto the beam and pulled a set of tools from a cargo pocket, and proceeded to tighten the beam clamp down. He checked its positioning before securing the swivel to it. The woman in the lift was not pleased that Fane was working all over the beam without a safety harness, but he kept on going.
“Wha’s he doin’?” Bern sidled up to Ishan. “By all the golden leaves of the Forest…” Bern’s eyes finally lit on Fane’s hair.
“Took a bunch of those hooks out of him last night. Woke up to Rapunzel. Says he remembered some things from before the surgeries.” Ishan never took his eyes off the monkey on the ceiling.
“He seems…excited?” Corbin approached Ishan’s other side in trepidation.
“In all the months I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him like this. I’ve seen him doing his shot tests and when he went after the baron. That type of excitement from him is scary, believe me. This. I don’t even know what to make of this.” Ishan smiled, relieved. Fane fiddled with the rope at the top of the lift. Ishan had a hard time making out what he did, but eventually, he attached it to the swivel, allowing the rest of the length to fall away to the smooth cement below.
“Must have a lot of energy if he’s up for climbing that,” mused Sophia. Ishan glanced around to find a group of college age adults looking up at the man in the rafters. He recognized Deck and Benj. The others must be the other wolves, he mused to himself. The mechanics had even laid down their tools. A loose ring of curious onlookers gathered around the floor. Fane and the woman on the lift descended. He lept off the lift before it was fully lowered, landing smoothly on the floor. He pulled on the rope, testing it, his nervous energy palpable.
“The Shaman. What have you done to him?” Dietrik turned to Ishan, his eyes flicking between blue and gold.
“Freed him of some of his bonds.” Ishan shifted from one foot to the other, his fingers tracing the embroidery on his cuffs.
Fane waived the lift out of his space. He took up the rope and walked it in a circle – seeing what the reach was going to be like. Mechanics and scientists backed out of the ring he was making. He came back to centre and put all his weight on the line again.
“What are you doing?” Ishan finally called out. Everyone was too curious. Fane looked up at him, joy spreading across his face. He let go of the rope and walked over to Ishan, his steps fluid and sensual. He pulled off his compression top. Gasps rattled about the warehouse, his scars quite telling. Ishan’s heart hammered in his chest, but Fane was ignoring the responses. He tossed the shirt and the tools he had used to secure the beam clamp out to the edge of the ring near his arsenal.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve done this.” His teeth gleamed as he pulled his hair up and twisted it. He slipped the twist back and under until he had created a stewardess bun. Ishan was surprised at the smoothness of the action like the man had done it every day of his life. Fane plunged his hands into the bowl of chalk and rubbed it up his forearms and then onto his feet.
“Climbing ropes? You look like you do that in your sleep,” Sophia pointed out. Fane flashed her a glance, his sclera going black for only a blink, but the honest smile on his face could not be set aside.
“I just about do,” he conceded the point. He lifted himself up on tiptoes and kissed Ishan on the cheek, catching his eye for a second. “Watch.”
Fane sprang back to his rope. A swift stretch of his shoulders as he walked the rope around the circle once more loosened him up, the movement fluid and fixating. Ishan’s mouth ran dry as Fane’s lines elongated, his toes pointing and flexing, drawing his legs long and lean. Ishan barely noticed at first that he gently rolled up the slack of the rope around his arm. He relaxed himself against the rope and took up some speed, allowing the rope’s movement to lift him up his path, one arm holding his body rigidly aloft. At the completion of one full turn, he brought his pointed toes up above his head, twisting into a meathook climb.
The swinging, hypnotizing movement brought him up farther and farther above the floor. He was home. He dropped into a swivel catch before continuing with the dance. Beats, angels, the contortions continued on and on. “He was an aerialist.” Ishan finally understood the beauty he was watching flying above them.
“I’ve never seen anyone do this.” Bern breathed an awed sigh.
Fane pushed himself into more and more difficult contortions, the ropes forming intricate cat cradles about his lithe form. The group below him was stunned. He could feel the memories of his many practice sessions, the muscle memory that never left. He had to augment some of his patterns; his partner no longer there to catch or support.
He had only been in the air for maybe three minutes before he made a dizzying drop that carefully deposited him feet first on the cement. His hair was already coming free of the bun, the lengths spilling about his shoulders and chest. His years of training snapped across his senses as he straightened his back and held his head high as a finishing execution. The group of machinists and scientists clapped and whistled at the spectacle as he drew in deep breaths. He turned a searching gaze to Ishan, swallowing nervously. Ishan waived him over to him. Fane’s face lit as he abandoned his rope and ran back over to Ishan.
“All right, guys, break’s over!” Corbin directed the shop workers. A cacophony of disappointed vocalizations drifted in different directions in the warehouse.
“This wasn’t in your files.” Ishan smiled down at the proud breathless man standing in front of him.
“I – I worked…my sister and I worked at a cabaret as rope aerialists and pole dancers. My folks had been part of a touring group…They taught us… Mel and me.” He glanced back at the swinging rope, the memories tumbling down like dominoes. “Mum came from a New French ballet company in Glasse. Dad was a gymnast raised in Edin. We were classically trained in ballet and gymnastics because of them, at least during our childhood and early teenage years. They joined up with a burlesque circus of sorts. They did the trapeze, the silks and rings. The boss funding it.” He shook his head. “They got themselves into some pretty massive debt with the boss. When they both died in a car crash, my sis and I – we had to take their place.” The desire to be back up on the rope crawled across his skin. He walked back, Ishan trailing behind him.
Ishan knew he had to be patient, that the memories had to come as Fane could get them. Bern crossed his arms, watching the man’s actions. Dietrik and Heinrich glanced at the White Horse. They couldn’t quite shake the twisting in their hearts as Fane’s emotions beat at the circle. A sweet, heavy scent of honey and bee brood wafted through the air, along with an underlying musk that the wolf hybrids readily identified as something more sensually driven. The large blond man who had identified himself as Yeller walked away from the group and went back upstairs.
Fane circled around Ishan, setting him just to the side of dead centre as he worked. He eased up the rope, muscles flexing and lengthening under the pull. The lifts and twists were more steady, the dance more intricate, more refined. The swings were balanced to only circle tightly around Ishan as he continued to talk to his prince about his childhood and his teenage years before ending up in Sanguis.
“We thought we were so close to being free of the debt. The boss…he made a lot of money on our acts…and our customers…” Fane flicked a glance away from Ishan as he spun away from the man for a moment before coming back to him. “We were planning on walking away when it was all paid off. I didn’t know that Mel had started taking on personal customers on the side to clear the debt faster. When the boss found out that she was moonlighting, he had her murdered out of anger.
“When the debt collectors showed up that day demanding I pay them the rest of the debt along with adding a new number to it to make up for Mel’s death. They literally tried to charge me…to pay them for murdering my sister, saying that the boss had to charge for work done and lost merchandise, no matter what kind of work it was. I couldn’t do it. I can remember going after his men. The anger that I had pent up inside of me. I can remember every one of them. I remember the first time I took a gun from one of them. The first knife. I remember what happened in Sanguis. The caning…cigarette burns…they branded me…ice water…steam…razor blades…bats and lead pipes…nails…they sheared my hair off and practically strangled me with it.” He hung upside down in a foot lock, right at eye level with Ishan. The space chilled, the vapour in the air freezing in the area to create a light fall of snow throughout the entire building. Fane’s eyes shifted their varying colours, worry creasing his eyebrows.
“When they came for me. The last time they took me from that cell, something snapped. A red rage that shook me to the core. That day I vaporized most of the men in there with the ice, like Bern described. I found a gun and used it ‘til it was empty. I don’t remember the walk to the base. I do remember Zephyr finding me in the pouring rain. I remember the many operations. That tiny ass cell Sanguis had me in…” The temperature in the warehouse was plummeting fast.
Ishan reached out a hand to touch Fane’s jaw. He rose up on tip toes to kiss him. “I shouldn’t have opened those memories. I’m so sorry, Fane.” Ishan rested his forehead against Fane’s. Fane spun down from the hook to support himself with just the one-arm hold. He pulled Ishan into a hug with his free arm, lifting him off his feet. Ishan held on, swinging gently with the man for a moment, Fane’s legs taking most of his weight. “I can’t thank you enough for returning this to me.” Fane allowed Ishan to slip along his body down to regain his feet. Fane released his hold on the rope, letting it spin him back to his own bare feet. The cement was warm beneath his feet.
“You’re glowing,” Ishan whispered quietly. Fane looked up at him quizzically, thinking he was stating something about his emotions.
“Nae, literally, ye’re glowin’ like a candle,” Bern called out in the quiet space. Fane glanced over at Bern, finally realizing that he still had an audience.
“You said you went and worked on his void last night?” Corbin asked as Bern and him walked up to Fane and Ishan.
“For several hours,” nodded Ishan. “I wasn’t able to completely get him out of that nest, but I think it’s been improved immensely.” He brushed his hand along Fane’s free hand. Fane took it in a warm hold.
“May I?” Bern raised an eyebrow, offering him a handshake. Fane looked at it for a minute before relenting. He took the offered hand and pulled Bern into his void. It was becoming a smoother transition every time he had to do it. Ishan found himself pulled in along with Bern. He was surprised at the transformation that had happened since the morning. Though Fane still sat in the rope seat Ishan had made for him, and hooks and wires were embedded in his flesh, Fane’s surroundings were slowly shifting.
The chamber was refining itself. It was an echoing cavernous expanse. Ishan looked up to the ceiling. It was arched into a central point, banners of gold and red sweeping from the point out to the edges of the circular area. Spotlights cast blue and green shadows across the space. It smelled sweetly of floor wax and chalk. Even the massive black pool was becoming defined with a set ring. There was an edge to it now where the banners met hardwood floor on the outside of it.
Though wires and hooks still cut into him, areas of his skin were unmarked and fair. A black leather single-shoulder top wrapped around his left shoulder down under his right arm, and a band from it stretched back across to his left side. Black leather skin-tight pants cupped him suggestively. Soft leather straps protected his wrists. Matching leather spatterdash leggings wrapped around the calves of his pants and under the arches of his feet.
“Yer space is comin’ back to ye!” Bern called up to the man excitedly. He was so far out of reach. Fane looked down at him with a wide smile. Bern was surprised to watch Ishan reached up and levitate in the space, his fingers drawing along one of the wires that held Fane.
“You’re amazing,” Ishan complimented him. “Wanna see if we can get any more of these hooks off while we’re in here?” he offered.
“How much more can be removed without risking the jump?” Fane asked.
“I’m still betting it has something to do with these bolts. I want to see about these rings.” Ishan tapped on the massive loops that were buried under Fane’s clavicles.
Fane turned to look down on Bern. “You coming up or just gonna stand down there and fish?”
Bern glanced down at the pool, the waves rippling gently. He spotted the knife in Fane’s hand. He could guess at why the space was calming down. Ishan held out his hand and offered it to Bern. Bern drew in a breath and had to suspend his sense of gravity for a time as Ishan pulled him up to walk beside him around Fane’s rig. “What became a’ the lines n’ hooks ye got out?” Bern asked from his new vantage point. Ishan looked around, also curious. Fane waved toward the ceilings and walls. They were the banners and silks that hung down throughout the space. Bern nodded his head, getting the picture.
“Right, so, ye knife the creature a’ the deep ‘n that keeps it at bay. We get the rest a’ the hooks out n’ that leaves just the bolts n’ these massive loops,” Bern reiterated Ishan’s opinion. “I’ve worked gold before. We’d need a lot a’ heat n’ a pair of pretty sturdy shears ta cut through these.” Bern sighed, not sure where to start with them. “Ye get ta work on the hooks, Prince. I’ll see what I can do ‘bout convincin’ Fane here ta give me a furnace and bellows.” Bern glanced around the space again, not sure how he was going to make Fane loosen up his void for such an unusual instrument. The knife was new, so clearly, he could shape the void to his will, but he was still inexperienced at it. The Fyskar had the talent to be awake in their void, but any time he had entered someone else’s void, someone not of the bloodline, he had always found them asleep. Every space had been different, reflecting the person’s loves and passions, but he had never met them awake. Convincing a person’s void to create something new was not an easy task for those asleep. Maybe it would be easier for a Red Hare.
“Blow torch and bolt cutter’s’d do the trick,” Ishan offered as he pulled a particularly nasty hook from Fane’s arm. Fane bit out a curse as stars sparked in his vision. These were the ones Ishan had not felt safe enough to pull before on his own. They were larger and deeper than the others, and Ishan could only guess at what memories they were attached to. “You gonna be all right for another round?” Ishan paused, waiting for the wound to start closing.
Fane took a deep breath in and out, willing the pain to stop. Fane caught Ishan’s eyes and nodded. “I can do another round, but should we be standing in the middle of the warehouse in everyone’s way?” Fane asked, recalling them to the reality they were in.
Bern shrugged. “We’ll come out a’ it if someone needs us enough. Now, what’s a blow torch?” He pulled experimentally on the chain at Fane’s left shoulder as Ishan worked on Fane’s right side. The rig swayed, Ishan and Bern swaying with it. Bern raised an eyebrow at Ishan. This was disconcerting.
Fane had to think for a quiet minute, disturbed from his concentration as another hook came free. The more he thought about the tool, the calmer the pool beneath him became until a blue canister blowtorch and a flint scratch lighter dropped from the ceiling the same way the knife had. “That’s a blow torch.”
Bern looked at it, puzzled. “Right, now what?”
Fane reached for it, but the space seemed to bend away from his grasp. “Really?” he spat, annoyed. “Hand that to me,” Fane demanded. Bern set the instrument in his hand. “Right. Now take it,” Fane growled. Bern took it, confused. Fane reached for it again, and the space grew. “Bloody brilliant,” he seethed. So, he could conjure up necessary things, but he had to have someone else hand them to him. That was messed up. “You still need bolt cutters. Give me a sec.” Fane had to think about it. The hinges were his hang-up. A well-worn set dropped down into Ishan’s hands. Ishan switched with Bern and lit the blow torch. Fane’s lip curled. This was going to be fun. Ishan showed Bern how to adjust the flame point and heat levels before switching him back for the bolt cutters.
“Prefer the chest or the back?” Bern asked, amazed at the fire in his hand. Fane looked at him and Ishan. He couldn’t help the sweat that broke out across his skin looking at the flame. Now that a specific set of his memories were back, he was not thrilled about seeing the instruments around him. The pool below him rippled.
“Easy Fane.” Ishan noticed his distress. He came around to where Fane could see him completely. Fane would not take his eyes off of the torch. Ishan stepped in front of Bern, hiding the flame behind him.
Fane looked up at Ishan, his pupils dilating. “I…um…what just happened?” He was missing a minute in his head.
“Bern and I have a blowtorch to get the rings out of your shoulders. You saw the flame and spaced. I think we should stop here for the day.” Ishan turned the last comment to Bern.
“No! I…I can keep going. Sorry about that,” Fane protested. He wanted to have the rings out, badly.
“I’m going to work in front then and have him work behind you; that way you don’t have to see it. Will that be okay? You’ve got those brands on your…” Ishan looked down at Fane, an image of his real-life body flashing, superimposed on the one in the void. His stomach dropped as his eyes spotted every hook and piercing, every line and wire, every bolt and pin. He drew a finger along the length of the meathook that still skewered Fane’s oblique. He had been too scared to pull it out. “The scars…”he murmured. Fane looked up at him with a questioning glance.
“Prince?” Bern asked.
“Burn marks.” Ishan touched a loop piercing. “Razor blades.” He skimmed the lines of aberdeen hooks. He came to a series of treble hooks and glanced up at Fane, catching his eye. He had remembered what Ajay had described to him in the torture scars, “nails?” Fane bit his lip and looked away, nodding slightly. “Caning.” Ishan drew a finger along one of the wires that still wrapped around Fane. “He has brands on his back where those loops are.” He looked up at Bern. Fane ducked his head, his chest constricting. The memories felt too fresh, too raw in that very moment. Ishan traced Fane’s leather-wrapped thigh along the bolts in his legs. “These aren’t connected to that implant.” Ishan’s voice cracked.
“No? That’s good, right?” Bern turned back to survey the hooks that remained.
“You have pins in your legs and arms. I read that in your medical report,” whispered Ishan, his stomach flopping. Fane found his hand, holding it tight, the tips of his ears going red. “You don’t have to tell me, it’s okay,” Ishan pulled Fane’s head to his shoulder, holding him for a time. Splashes of heat stained his shirt. Ishan hummed a lullaby, quieting the sniffles. Bern stood back, giving the two room.
He had only ever heard of the Red Hare in stories and legends that his people kept alive. They were strong, fearless monsters that protected the wall from the Roman invasion. They were said to have no soul, the antithesis of the White Horse, re-incarnated demons. He couldn’t help but watch the men in front of him and realize that his legends were sorely amiss. He had never thought the Red Hare could have been so elegant or powerful. To see the deep contrast between his outward self and the hellscape inside his head made him ache.
“He had hoped that I’d never be able to dance again. He wanted me to live knowing that. He had them break them,” Fane whispered, the ache in his voice echoed in the cavern.
“The same with your arms?” Ishan yearned to take this pain away.
Fane nodded. “It took years of physical therapy and dedicated exercise to rebuild muscle definition and flexibility,” he hiccuped.
“I can’t believe you got away.” Ishan hugged him tighter.
“I remember my pain, and my rage that day when I understood what they were doing, and why. The burns, brands, scars, those were inflicted as pain and humiliation, but I knew I could still dance, regardless of my skin. They weren’t out to kill me. They only ever brought me close to it.” Fane warmed under Ishan’s touch. “When you desperately don’t want to be where you are…” Fane shrugged. He truly couldn’t recall leaving. He remembered laying down utter destruction, every face swarming his vision, but he could not place the walk that took him out of the prison and through the bad end of the industrial district to the back gates of the base. Fane smiled weakly. “I guess he achieved his desire to keep me off the ropes.”
“No, he didn’t. What I just saw you do out there, you were beautiful,” Ishan reassured Fane, pulling his chin to make him look him in the eyes. Tears sparkled at the corners of his eyes. “You were, and I want to see you do it again.” He brushed the tears from Fane’s cheeks. Fane perked up, relief palpable in the space.“Let’s take a break from this. We got a few more hooks out, which will help. We can do the big ones later, more slowly,” Ishan offered.
Fane shook his head, fire in his eyes. He drew in a steadying breath and glanced over at Bern, then back at Ishan. “No, I want them out. I don’t want to be chained down to these fears.” Ishan studied him for a second and sighed, nodding his head. “Just…I might…I might need help with the panic attacks,” he admitted hoarsely as Bern came back around with the torch.
Ishan pulled his gaze back to him. “We’ll get the rings out. Bern is going to soften them. I’m going to use the bolt cutters. I’m right here.” Fane looked up to him, silently repeating the mantra, telling himself over and over exactly what was going to happen to him. “If you need us to stop, we’ll stop immediately. I’m going to have him work in front of you. I know the flame made you panic when you saw it, but I can only imagine how you’d feel with heat at your back. We’re going to start with the left one.” Ishan tapped on the loop. Bern nodded his head and approached the Red Hare once more. Fane’s skin prickled at the thought of the torch. He held his breath. He willed himself not to move as the torch descended. His heartbeat sky rocketed, and all he could do was let the tears start falling.
“Do you want us to stop?” Ishan asked. Fane shook his head. He bit down on his lip and continued to watch the men work. The heat of the torch did not reach his skin, but the thought of it doing so rattled around his nerves. With that thought, Ishan and Bern found themselves in a grey cement room that smelled of piss, blood, bleach and burning flesh. The crawling sensation of horror wrapped around their lungs and spines, their shoulders bending under the weight. Fluorescent lights flicked, casting deep shadows in corners. They turned to look around them. A spotlight fell on a limp arm on the floor, reaching out across the cement, the nail beds bloody. Several men stood around the body. One man’s boot kept the arm from moving. Hot metal wafted around them. A portable forge stood in a corner, casting a red halo up the wall. A man in a guard’s uniform approached the laughing group with a glowing brand. The metal descended in the pack of the bodies. Pain shot through Bern and Ishan’s backs.
The scream that swallowed the memory threw them out into a dim orchestra. The lights were low, save for the limelights circling a stage that stood out in the middle of the floor. A single side light played along the hardwood, feet flicking in and out of shadow. The orchestral strings whined and hummed as the brass began to ease into a soft melody.
Ishan stood, petrified, the pain of the burns lingering. “What is this, Bern?” Ishan knew the man would understand what was happening.
“We’ve emerged from the void, what the Fyskar call the camhanaich. We tattoo it on our Princes, when they come a’ age ta help activate their connection, ease them inta it in a way. The pain a’ relivin’ those brands triggered it in the same way our needles do. Ye saw my tattoos. They represent the levels of the mind. The second one…the one we’re in now, we call turadh, our memories. The last is the gloaming, our emotions. We also have the eagal, craidh and corraich at our low back – pain, anger, and fear.
We use the time for tattooing ta activate each a’ those independently, ta help guide the boys comin’ a’ age into manhood. We help them control it through the process, ta learn how ta manage them.
“Can you help him now?” Ishan watched the lights flash spasmodically in the space, and the orchestra swelled.
“He knows the eagal, craidh and corraich intimately. I’m nae sure there’s much I can do here in the turadh. We watch and wait. He’s relivin’ his past, his memories. Those loops are nae really there in the camhanaich. They are his biggest fears, and if he really wants them out, he has ta do it f’r himself, I think.” Bern watched a myriad of coloured lights focus on the couple that now stood in the centre of the stage. “The fact ye came in and helped him with some a’ the hooks probably has helped him face his fears already.” Bern nodded Ishan’s attention toward the stage. A numb pressure wrapped up Ishan’s spine and a throb dropped low in his gut.
Fane was brushing against his early twenties. He was leaner, his face much younger. Wrapped in his arms was a small woman who couldn’t be much younger or older. They shared similar side shoulder crop tops to what Fane had been wearing in the void. Her’s connected into a tight light blue leotard and short ballet skirt. His olive green leggings ended at the knees instead of the ankles, his leather spatterdash style wraps and wrist cuffs were polished and gleamed under the lights. Her make-up was light and airy, gold with exaggerated freckles. Her brassy red hair had been brushed back and left long, a large blue bow clasped at the back of her head. His eyes were smeared with kohl, creating a heavy black bar from his eyebrows to feather out softly at his cheeks. His hair had been twisted into intricate knots and braids at the crown of his head. Red feathers danced from small chains on beads in the knots.
“Can you feel the warmth?” Bern whispered as they watched the couple take up a pair of aerial straps. Ishan flicked a glance at Bern. He reached for the sensation. It spread across his chest and his cheeks. He discovered he was smiling as he watched the straps pull the couple up into a tight spin. Fane cradled the woman as he took the weight of the two straps. She looped around him, catching her feet to his as she hung upside down in the air, her arms spread out as if she were flying. The music rose. They changed their poses. The positions were suggestive and sensual, tantalizing the senses.
“I know this story.” Ishan couldn’t hide the nostalgia that was swamping him.
“Melody was everything to me when mum and dad died. She was older by two years, though I know the files listed her as my kid sister – she always looked young for her age. Military didn’t get everything right. She had her head on straight, usually. She kept me safe to the best of her ability. Looking back now, I can’t believe she could do everything she did,” Fane whispered, standing next to Ishan. Ishan flinched, startled. Fane was watching the dance, his eyes catching every movement, admiring every technique and trick. The brands in his shoulders looked fresh and raw under the short-shoulder crop.
“How are you…?” Ishan couldn’t quite wrap his head around Fane standing next to him and being out on the stage. Bern didn’t seem phased by older Fane’s presence.
“This a favourite memory of ye’rs?” Bern asked. Ishan turned back to the dance, admiring the fluidity. A set of beats felt familiar to him as he watched Fane work. Some of the contortions were modified.
“This was what you showed us out there, isn’t it?” Ishan finally put his finger on the feeling.
Fane nodded, his eyes gleaming with forgotten dreams and hard memories. “Pan was Melody’s dream. She loved the story. It was how she learned to read. It took her years and too many favours, and more debt to get the boss to let her do it. This was the first night we performed it. It was a sold-out house, and it stayed that way.
The joy she felt in flying was palpable that night. Her dressing room was completely packed in flowers after the performance.” Fane leaned against a railing, a sad smile crossing his face as he watched. The music wrapped around them and beat at their senses. They felt the friction, the movement of air across their faces as if they, too, were flying in the air on the ropes. The act was no more than six minutes in length, but it felt too short when the couple descended from the air, Fane kneeling over Melody in the soft glow of the limelights. They smiled at each other, teeth glinting. They got up and hurried to the stage edges as the house lights went up, and the audience cheered. Ishan turned to ask Fane a question, but he had vanished, the edges of the memory going fuzzy.
They found themselves tossed back into Fane’s void, the camhainach as Bern called it. Fane rested his head against the golden rope that was taking his weight as he watched Bern’s blowtorch indifferently. Ishan looked around, not entirely sure if he would ever get a good feel for that kind of transition. Fane reached for the torch, and Bern relinquished it readily. Fane flipped the dial, and the flame extinguished. He set it to the side of him, the torch bobbing in the air. He turned his eyes on the gold loop and tapped on it. The metal cracked into radiating lines. He looked at it curiously. “I don’t need these anymore,” he muttered in frustration. He gripped the loop tightly and squeezed it until the metal melted out of the hole in his shoulder and pooled around him like globs from a lava lamp. He grabbed the blobs and blew them from his palm, creating golden floating bubbles that illuminated the space. He smiled with a bit of a chuckle, pleased with the beauty. The hole in his shoulder bled as the skin began to stretch and mend.
He looked up at Ishan, tears in his eyes. He smiled past them, relief clear in his expression. “Thank you for sharing my memories with me.”
Ishan pulled the man to him, “Thank you for trusting me with them.”
Bern stood back and watched as the wires and hooks dissolved into sparkles and bubbles around the men, leaving the two floating together above the pool, suspended by a golden rope. Light caught and gleamed off the floating orbs and drifting flakes, the space dim yet dazzling.
Bern knew they would stay like that if he let them, but they were due to leave the void. He could feel a beating hunger that was not his own. He tapped the two to split them up. Fane looked up at Bern and nodded. It was time for them to go. He dissolved the connection, letting them find their feet back on concrete in the chill of the warehouse.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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