Now I’ll Set My Teeth and Send to Darkness All That Stop Me
The open door seemed miles away, and Althea looked at its welcoming openness with apprehension. She couldn’t help but look at the one thing she wanted so badly and only see a trap. It couldn’t possibly be this easy, could it? What if Durai only faked his emotional break to catch her running away? What terrible actions could he justify with that? What pain would he then further inflict? Her muscles were so tensed to run, but her fear kept her body frozen in place.
“Don’t let the darkness win, Althea…”
She swallowed down the ball of terror she had in her throat and took a deep breath to steel her courage. She began to take slow, timid steps towards the open door. Her foot falls were soft and silent, and her breathing was full, deep, and steady to make as little noise as possible. With every step she was ready to run in the opposite direction wary of attack. But her ears could hear nothing, and her body reaching out into the air couldn’t detect a waiting presence. The rain kept steadily on in heavy falls.
When she reached the door, she reached out her hand first through the threshold. As strange as it might have looked, she leaned her upper body through the door while keeping her lower half safely in the room she was still confident was safe. Well, relatively safe.
But upon inspection, there were no signs of Durai in the main room beyond the bedchamber. No presence of his were left at all as far as she could sense. However, the main doors were closed. He at least then had the presence of mind as he left to seal her in. How securely, she couldn’t know. She looked around in the darkened grey light of the room and found only burned down candles and slight signs of the struggle from the night before. She also could see the rod that he used to brand her on the ground amongst the rubble of the turned over table and dishes. She was hesitant to pick it up, but she had to know more about what had been inflicted on her. She lightly touched the cold metal half expecting it to still hold burning heat. She slowly closed her nimble fingers around the rod and brought the designed end up for inspection.
She saw that this rod and the design had been meticulously crafted. The level of intricacy of even the smallest detail were haunting. The main design was the floral mark she bore upon her ankles; the mark of a Healer. However, the more terrifying part of the design was a slender, malicious serpent that wrapped the Healer’s flower in its coils. What she was, what he was. And this would be with her all her life and remind her always that he possessed her. Even if she broke free someday, found freedom somehow, she would always bear this as surely as her own skin. What must the person who made his for Durai have been thinking at such a request? Did he commission this right after she left, or only just recently upon learning she would be back? The more she thought of the questions and possible answers, the more she realized that none of it truly mattered. What had been done was done.
She walked over to a large wall mirror and turned her shoulder to inspect the burn. She could see now the design red and angry upon her skin. Though the detail would be sharper with time and healing, it was now blurred and slightly indistinguishable with the blistering and swelling. And no matter what she could possibly try to do, it would be with her forever.
The anger and resentment she felt at this violation grew within her, and she had more determination than ever to leave. She reached the suite’s main door that lead to the castle’s hallway. She could sense something then. She placed her palms flat against the wood and pressed her ear to it as well. She could hear deep vibrations of men’s voices outside. No doubt they were Durai’s guards, probably from the same group that brought her here. They would be the only ones that knew she was alive, the only ones he would trust to keep the truth a secret and hidden. There were clearly two sets of voices, at least. In her state, she assessed she could overcome maybe one of them if that one happened to be a small boy. Forceful escape through the front door was out of the question, and she couldn’t trust the character of these men.
She turned around then to see the glass doors she had looked out of the night before that stood between her and the outside. It was hard to tell what time of day it was as there was no sun to make that distinction. The rain poured steadily on, but the droplets of rain were smaller now than she had heard before. She approached the glass and saw the rain run down the length of the clear panes like tears. Like her tears.
With less effort that she planned on, she opened the door. The cool air and scent of rain hit her as both refreshing and inexplicably sorrowful. Slowly she stepped onto the stones of the patio with her bare feet and felt the cold beneath them. As she went further into the deluge, she found some comfort in the water wetting her body and slowly rolling down her skin as it accumulated. The coolness on her shoulder was so welcomed in its relief it almost felt sinful. The further she ventured out, the more she knew that she could not find an escape this way. At the end of his vast private courtyard was a security wall about the height of her waist. But beyond that wall was the steep and treacherous drop of the hill. And as he was the farthest room of this wing, the space was jutted and separated from all others. She was on a type of peninsular plateau with no hope of someone spotting her or her signaling out.
Her head dropped at the thought that though he may be gone in this moment, and she may be a little less confined and at least no longer bound, she was still trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be. And she was still no closer to the temple and her chance to end the Mist. Would he even let her still go? Was all of this for nothing? No salvation, only damnation?
She was so wrapped in her own doomsday thoughts that she didn’t even notice the flapping of settling wings beside her as she leaned on the waist-high wall. Though she continued on in stillness as the water continued to roll down her skin and pool at her feet not noticing the bird, it watched and noticed her. Only when it let out a cry did she take notice of it. Even though the sound was near and resounding, she did not flinch or jump at the sudden sound. She simply turned slowly as if the newly realized presence was almost expected. Althea regarded the large, black crow, and the crow regarded her in stillness as well.
Althea said nothing, and the crow made no other noise. She went back to staring ahead at the sprawling land beyond the drop beneath her. She seemed to search the vastness that laid before her for answers, and none came. She searched for clarity through the peaceful blanket of rain, and she found no mindfulness, no revelation.
The crow made another small cry, much quieter and calmer. When she turned to it, she could swear its eyes were upon her shoulder and her wound. She sighed still looking at the bird, and the bird made the smallest hop towards her. “I know,” she said softly as to not scare it. She was no Leporem, but speaking to a living presence actually made her feel better, even if she were to get no intelligible response back. “This really is so ugly. And, yes, it does hurt a lot. Maybe that might fade in time, but the mark itself will be there forever, I guess. In a way, his mark was always with me. It’s just…other people can see it now.” She dropped her hands from her chin then, but the bird didn’t move. “There’s a lot I don’t know. I know where I need to be, I know the results I want. But the way to get there, the way to make it all happen, it’s hidden from me. How can I do what seems impossible when I couldn’t even prevent this?” she said as she gestured to her shoulder with one hand.
She half smiled to herself realizing she was speaking to a bird. She knew it might look ridiculous, and she didn’t care. If the bird was willing to listen for whatever good it did either of them, she would keep talking it out.
Her thoughts then went to what she had done and what she saw in Durai as she laid her hand upon him. She could feel a pulling sensation from her hand, as if she had drawn out those images. She tried to lock down her exact movements, what she was thinking, and anything else specific enough to at least attempt to understand what any of it meant. She closed her eyes to concentrate harder. In the darkness behind her eyes, all fell away. She no longer felt the fall of rain, smelled the wet earth, or heard the breathing of the large bird next to her.
The more she fought to delve deeper and deeper into the hidden parts of her for answers, the more she felt as though she was wondering through uncharted space within her own soul that she didn’t even know existed. There was only black to see, but sensations kept brushing past her like scents hanging in the air. She could feel sensations change from moment to moment. She was moving, yet she was standing still.
Suddenly there was light and colors in the black, and images began to emerge. She focused hard and found she was in a memory. A long forgotten memory that felt blurred and vague at first but grew into sharpness and clarity.
She saw her mother, and she saw her younger self. Her mother was mixing herbs of the earth and creating and crafting in the hut where they both used to live. Her mother stroked Althea’s long hair and smiled so warmly. Althea could even feel the touch then. Her mother continued with her work and pointed out every name of every element and explained every step in the process to her student and daughter. Althea remembered often watching her mother’s work knowing that she must someday take it up as her own.
“Mamma, I want to learn more about the songs.”
“You just want to make the lights, don’t you?”
Little Althea blushed a bit at having been so transparent. Then again, there was nothing her mother didn’t appear to perceive. “I do want to make the lights.”
Her mother smiled. “You know, there’s nothing wrong with that. We are the keeper of the light in all things, you know. It’s our job to protect it, make it strong, and even give it life from the deep cloak drawn from the darkness in people.”
Althea’s eyes were wide at everything her mother ever said. She would hang on every note of every syllable as a child, and now in her recalling, she was listening even more intently. Tears in her remembrance of her mother’s voice welled in her eyes. She saw her younger self put a hand on her mother and reply, “You mean I can make light after it’s lost to darkness?”
Her mother stopped her work and turned to her daughter. “No light is ever truly lost to darkness, little bit. It can be hidden away, buried deep, or locked deep in places not meant to be seen. But it is never fully gone.” At that moment she saw her mother closer her eyes and extend a hand. After a time of concentrating, the same familiar glow and streams of twisting light emerged from her mother’s palm and danced up towards the sky. “A Healer’s power comes from the light. The light from the earth and from the heart gives more life than people give it credit for. But the true gift of healing a person’s body comes from deep within a person’s soul. Our medicine, our Magic, is all a means of reaching the light and touching the place where healing begins.”
The light from her mother’s hands abruptly faded and fell out of the air. Her mother seemed to struggle, was slightly out of breath even, from the exertion. Little Althea seemed concerned, so her mother smiled reassuringly. “It isn’t easy. Even for your grandmother it was never really easy. Sometimes the light within a soul is buried and locked away so deep and so tight, that it may seem completely lost. The evil that has managed to find and gain strength in the hearts of the wicked is a powerful adversary. But you remember, you have that power. And I truly believe with all my heart that you will have a skill to draw out the light even stronger and more powerful than mine or your grandmother’s.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I know so.”
Althea seemed to be shocked back into the world of the present and out of her memories. She again became aware of the rain, of the cold, and the still present bird at her side. She turned to it, “Is that what I did? Did I draw out the light he locked away?” The bird did not respond, but she kept asking the questions to herself. “But the images were so dark, so horribly terrifying. That couldn’t be the light. It would be hard for me to believe that there is even light left in him. Maybe my mother was wrong.”
The bird flew down into the courtyard then. He hopped into some bushes beyond her sight to see. She just continued to think more on whether or not what she had done was this ability her mother spoke of. If it was, how could she do it again? Would she even want to do it again?
The answer to that came clearly as soon as she thought it. The only way to fight darkness was with the light.
“Don’t let the darkness win, Althea…”
The bird then arrived again at the stone wall next to her carrying something in its beak. It was dropped onto the wall as the bird hopped back in nervous apprehension. Althea picked up what was dropped. It was a frail stick covered in thick, dark mud. She wiped away part of the mud and found beneath a bright, yellow flower. She looked at the crow unmoving next to her. “Pulling the light through the dark may bring parts of the darkness with it. Nothing can go through that much muck and come out completely clean. I understand now. You’re very clever.”
The crow let out a loud cry then. She turned from the crow and looked out at the hillside again. “The only defense against the darkness is the light, and it’s the only way that I’ll be able to fight him.” She stopped and sighed then, turning again to the bird. “He’s not going to like it. Whatever he has buried on top of what was once good in him will be devastating to face.”
The crow then seemed to regard the wound on her shoulder and made another cry. Maybe it was just her imagination that it sounded concerned. Either way, she replied more to herself than the bird, “Oh don’t worry about that. I’ll find some way to make it through to the other side.”
With that, the crow flew off and far away from where her eyes could follow. She reached back with one hand to the swelling, bubbled skin on her shoulder and winced slightly. She looked back at her own hand and pulled forth the tiniest sign of warmth and light.
The crow visited the little hospital room for only a moment. It flew away frightened as a cry of unimaginable guilt and anguish reverberated within the walls.