Alkahest and Azoth
Flashback to Flamina’s dream, part three.
He can feel grains of cold sand under his feet.
His hand in hers, they are moving through the dark.
The walls of the cave, they seem… muffled somehow, maybe by something hanging on them… are there pictures of someone? Perhaps a mother? A father? Who knows, with the old regime gone.
“Hello!” And what’s this then?
He admires the blindfold of string from afar in his own head, feeling a sort of kinship with the Blind Consort as the girl leads him farther into the heart of the rocky hole.
“It smells nice in here, like the sea. Do you dry flowers and put them in here?”
Of course he gets no answer; Her throat was ripped out a long time ago.
The rock grows deeper. Thicker. Soon he can no longer hear the crash of waves from outside.
What a place to live, for a little girl.
“This won’t do at all,” he murmurs, smelling dust. “Don’t you have a maid or something? Candy? Kids like candy…”
The girl’s hand tugs him along. His feet touch cold rock, through which a tremor is running. It starts as a crack, so far down… can she even feel it? It’s been eating at her, so long now. Running under her bare, swollen feet. Does she even know her feet are swollen? Her skin… between her long elfin toes, it feels like fire. There is a burning at her heels which has nothing to do with their pace of descent.
It won’t be long now. The air is thick, moldy. He doesn’t think she can breathe in here, but she does. Perhaps she smells roses, instead of dust.
But he can smell it.
Grey. Heavy. Lying on top of them, settling over them, invisible, like a smallpox blanket wet with blood. So much. How many has that man made her kill? It’s like a thick fog above their heads, all those deaths on her non-existent conscience. If he had been her parent, this wouldn’t have happened. Although, perhaps it might have, if he’s honest with himself.
She pulls him to a stop; he feels a rush of air push him to his feet, ending his momentum.
Her hands press his against something low.
It’s icy, he can feel the chill before his fingers actually touch the thing.
Its contours suggest a square- he can’t tell with the blindfold, but he doesn’t mind. He’s not her lover, only a visitor. Those ways are for the loyal and hooded young prince of her future, not the romantic leave-early magician of her past.
Absently he wonders who her parents were as his thoughts drift again to the suggestion of paintings on the rough cave walls.
Who or what had they been meant to depict?
Ah well, he thinks, and he reaches to touch the sides of what he knows must be a box, to test a theory. No, not a theory, more a wartime hypothesis. Stupid Time Lord, you’re with a girl. You’re bound to save her life sometime to-day. Selfish. Selfish. Selfish.
Her hand is on his.
His fingers stretch into the suddenly warm sand around the box… there are wood slats… wet…old. They give like termite-ridden planks when he presses. He is a Time Lord; his finesse is like no other’s, the barest brush of grains on rotten wood, but still… why? Why is the wood so…
“Flamina,” he says thickly. His throat feels full of molten lead. Even his mouth is burning.
“Flamina, you must let go of my hand and run to the mouth of the cave. Don’t touch the box! Don’t touch it!”
But her hand brushes his face, ice cold against him. His heat echoes her chill, rising in time to her breathing. Something sickly drags across his face, chunks of flesh, most likely. Suddenly the blindfold is in her hand, no longer string but her hair. It’s falling out, snow on the filthy black shadow casting itself toward the light outside.
It’s coming from the rotting box, that shadow. He knows it in his bones.
“Flamina, take my hand!” he cries, but he grabs it anyway… it’s cold, her flesh.
He turns, with her hand safely in his. He tries to run.
His feet kick up so much gluey filth and sand as he flies away toward the mouth of the cave, but he runs. Oh yes. He’s spent a lifetime training for this one. All they have to do is reach the mouth and then…
Three metres out of the lip of the cave, when the sunlight finally touches his face, he looks down and finds a plastic arm in his hand. Wasting breath on curses will not do her justice. So he tosses it outside into the sun. Onto the beach.
Then he spins on his heel, grasps the memory of sunlight close to his chest, and descends again, taking off the bowtie where a cravat used to be. He unties it, then walks backwards into the darkness of the cave again, quoting the mighty Edward Lear aloud while he winds it around his head and over his eyes...
“There was an old man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard.”