There was no preparation for what came next once the memories started to return. For days, sometimes weeks, I slipped in and out of consciousness, to the extent that I thought I might have passed on, until I was dragged back into the world of the living by my anxious companions. They throttled me awake while I was doused with cold water and called back through the strength of their commands. Often I’d remain motionless, nodding my head slightly, and begging for more food. It was relentless in its constancy, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever find the peace that had escaped me since the very first night.
Moving with the peaks and troughs of the recovery cycle was impossible to master. No matter how much food I ate there were moments when I had no energy whatsoever, feeling as helpless as a child might. Liwanu stared at me across the campfire with guilty eyes, perhaps blaming himself for my suffering as he watched with tired restraint. During those blessedly short times where I felt pushed to breaking point, the shadow part of myself did blame him and the others for what I was going through, and sometimes I wanted more than anything to inflict my pain onto them. Soon after I’d feel terrible, stunned that I could allow so much hate into my body, but the persuasive voice still managed to maintain its evil presence.
Whenever time passed slowly I’d strike up conversation with him, to try and find out more about his background. He was my guardian during these times, watching over me with the love of a concerned parent, and I confided in him more than I had anyone else. Despite his optimism and good humour there were flashes of sadness I caught within the subtext of his anecdotes. He told me about his old tribe and the challenges they had faced in the new world, as well as his breaking away from them in his transition into the worldly wanderer.
“Many of us left the old ways to become fully integrated into American culture,” Liwanu said one evening, as the last embers from the campfire started to recede. “I was born into that native world, you see, and wanted more than anything to belong. Living in our isolation was hard, though, with the ongoing poverty and heartbreak ravaging us at every corner. Even now, there are still some who cling onto that life. The truth, Jack, is that a day doesn’t go by that I don’t regret my betrayal.”
“You didn’t have a choice,” I said, offering comfort. “We all need to survive. What else is there to do?”
“There is always a choice. When I grew into my twenties, I played a part in condemning those who abandoned the tribe. I insisted that we understood our ancient teachings and kept the old customs alive. I believed in all of that – and I still do – but I left them, in the end, for the Zodiac. I realised that my purpose belonged somewhere else.”
“Sometimes we are pulled in one direction without knowing why. If you hadn’t come to us, we might’ve been lost altogether. So you see, you did the right thing.”
“Increasingly I question the essence of right and wrong,” Liwanu said, lost within his own thoughts. He eyed the grass next to him with serious intent. “Maybe you will help me to see that we are all connected, and that everything happens for a reason. I hope so, my friend. I am a lost soul, in truth, and I fight the loneliness inside of me with the same ferocity that you are fighting the emotion of your memories.”
“You’re too hard on yourself, Liwanu,” I said gently, moved by his words. There was loneliness in all of us, I felt, that had added to our need to connect. “You and Harrison seem close. How did the two of you meet?”
“A few years ago,” Liwanu said, brushing the thick grey curls of his hair away from his eyes. “Look at this,” he said, holding onto a strand of it with childish enthusiasm. “I’m only in my mid forties, but I look like I’m on the way out already! We met by chance, you know, when I was still living in the States. He knew more about me than I did at that time.”
“He seems to have a knack for that,” I said, grinning.
“Scared the hell outta me, that’s for sure. One minute I was going for a piss, the next I was being told that in my eyes there was a thirst for justice, and to bring peace to my tribe. As you can imagine that sort of talk caught my attention, and we ended up travelling together. Harrison wasn’t exactly keen on the idea of the Zodiac, you know – still isn’t, really, but I twisted his arm to come along.”
“He seems to really respect you. At first, I thought you were the boss. He listens to you. That’s rare for him.”
“No one tells him what to do, believe me,” Liwanu said after suddenly rising to his feet. “He’s a partner and a friend, but he knows he can leave at any time. He doesn’t, because I think he’s as curious about you as I am.”
“And what about Isabelle?” I asked, wrapping the warm blankets around me closer. Eventually I’d need to find the strength to go into my tent, but I couldn’t quite face the challenge of moving my tired legs at that moment.
“I don’t quite know what to make of her, honestly. Harrison feels close to her, though. I think all of that draws back to Antoine in some way. Maybe she’s missing him more than she lets on.”
“He loves her, I know that.” I said. Liwanu nodded and softly patted my shoulder. He left me with my own thoughts and I remained there for some time, feeling the aches and pains in my body more now that I was alone. Once the fire had finally fizzled out I noticed a hooded figure moving towards me with their feet dragging along the grass.
“Isabelle,” I called out in an attempt to sound affable. “Are you alright?”
She came out into the open and stood to my right, seeming to freeze on the spot. I left her alone for a while until she asked, with sudden alarm, a question that left me speechless: “What are you?”
“I don’t know,” I said evenly. “The same as you, I guess.”
“No,” she said, her face masked by the darkness. “There’s a reason why all of us keep moving around you, as if you were some sort of saint, and I want to know the reason.”
“I hope you find it, because I don’t understand myself. And I’m not a saint.”
“Your friends…” she began dryly. “They died, after I left you, didn’t they? Sagittarius…that man, I didn’t believe he had it in him to die.”
To an outsider it must’ve sounded like Isabelle was trying to be funny, but I understood exactly what she meant. The captain was the most fearsome man I’d ever met, and I don’t think anything could’ve been enough to silence him.
“They saved my life, yes. I’ve been told since that the ones who attacked us had been working with the Dark Ones all along.”
“I’m sorry about what happened,” she said quickly, as if too embarrassed to linger on the subject for long. “I don’t know even now if I would choose this life if I had another chance, but I…I didn’t want any of this to happen.”
“It’s okay,” I said, thankful for the courage that she’d shown. “Do you think you’ll stay with us?”
“There’s nothing for me, really. All I’m doing is going along with the flow. I – Jack, are you okay?!”
This time around I was thrown into my next memory with such vividness that I’d forgotten who I was. A stabbing pain pierced its way into my chest and across my right side as I rolled onto my back, screaming with the heat throbbing against my throat. For some time the world around me transformed into a thin stream of bodies floating downriver as I watched all of my companions moving along into the descent. They were friends I recognised from another time, with brothers and old love interests being washed away and forgotten.
Then there was the old Pisces again, standing next to me with a brown cloak straddled around his wiry shoulders; his sunken sockets delving into mine with devious enjoyment. Not for the first time I asked him why he was torturing me so much – with his shrill, high-pitched cackle haranguing me as a response.
“Now you remember,” the old man said, his mouth folding into a humourless grin. “You can’t pass me by. You can’t run against your true calling. You are too selfish, Pisces, like I was, to fulfil your ideals. Just let them all die again and live like I do!”
“No,” I said weakly, feeling as if I was falling through the air even as we stood upon the rocky surface next to the river. “You’re worse than anything I could think of.”
“You defeat the Magician and now you think you’re a hero?” he said, his frown reflecting the truth of his deep hatred for me. “I could kill you now, if I wanted, for the fun of it. I only let you live because I know how much you are going to suffer.”
“Ignore the old worm, Jack,” a familiar voice growled from behind us. I watched with relief as Harrison emerged from the sloped path below and walked onto the flat land.
“The Sorcerer…” the old man said, his bright eyes suddenly fearful. “It’s impossible that the rest of you can see me. I’m not part of your…your understanding.”
“It took me a while to figure you out, I admit,” Harrison said, edging closer. He looked ready to kill. “But you shouldn’t underestimate me, I’ve crossed paths with my fair share of demons. I don’t think one more will make much difference.”
“You should already be dead,” he said, backing away towards the stream. “I’ve seen you die before!”
“Here I am,” Harrison said, grinning like the devil himself. At that moment I was very grateful to have him on my side. “You mustn’t mistake me for the others – I’m not afraid to grab evil by the horns and ram it right up your arse, if that’s required.”
“Pisces!” he said, his cloak flapping against the wind with aggressive force. “Don’t you get it? I’m your only salvation. If you go with them, you’ll be a prisoner forever. Choose me, and you’ll be free.”
I backed away and watched with wavering eyes as his gnarled hands moved closer towards me. For a moment I stared into his vast, entrancing sockets and felt drawn by their infinite emptiness. Then, before my old counterpart could react, I grabbed him by the throat and threw him tumbling into the gushing water below.
His scream pierced my eardrums and tainted me in a way that I knew I could never forget. Soon, there would be another addition to my nightmares that I couldn’t escape from, no matter how much I resisted. Harrison reached me and pulled his weight against me, steadying my back with his firm grip.
“I’m proud of you, kid,” he said with sudden gentleness. “You did it. You overcame something that has been blinding you all this time.”
“How did you know to come?” I wheezed, breathless.
“Because I’ve been in the exact same place, too, and not so long ago,” he said, his eyes shining with tears. “Now, we need to go back.”
Slowly I fell back to the earth and saw Isabelle crouched next to me, tending to my wounds. The tension around her eyes alighted for a moment as I came back to my senses. Her arm cradled the back of my head while I rose gradually into a sitting position, the feeling coming back into my legs and with it an inflammation that throbbed constantly. Wordlessly I took in my surroundings and saw Liwanu poking the revived campfire with a stick, nodding and smiling with relief.
“You’ve been out for some time,” he said softly, his voice distant and dream-like. I rubbed my temple and managed to gather my thoughts enough to know that I was still in shock. “We didn’t want to move you, so we’ve been trying to keep you as warm as possible. It looks like this was your worst one yet, Jack. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have left you. Isabelle has been looking after you all this time.”
“Thanks,” I said, flinching at the pain in my jaw. She lowered her head and muttered under her breath, but I didn’t want to embarrass her. To change the conversation, I added: “Where’s Harrison? He was with me, in the dream, I saw him.”
Liwanu’s eyes narrowed as he said: “Interesting. You’ve been regaining your memories, but that might’ve been something else. He’s waiting in the tent. I’ll let him know you’re awake.”
“No need,” a hoarse voice said, out of sight. “I thought I’d show up to see if you’d come around yet.”
Harrison stepped into my line of vision and followed the bruises on my body with his eyes. More had developed since the latest confrontation with old Pisces, and Isabelle must’ve had to take off my shirt to nurse my wounds. I didn’t know where they had come from or how dangerous my memories were, but there was no escaping them. It was all part of the recovery process, whether I liked it or not, so Liwanu and the others had no other choice than to watch helplessly.
“What now?” I asked, looking into his deep orbed eyes. “Will there be more?”
“I don’t know,” Harrison growled with distraction. He was looking dejected about something. “I think that was a turning point. There was a block on you before, and now you’re free from it.”
“A block?” Liwanu said, piping in from behind. “What do you mean, Harrison?”
“It was getting in the way of his true potential. Call it what you want – self-doubt, possession, the inner turmoil of the mind. Whatever it was, it’s been banished for good. Now Jack, how much do you remember?”
“Quite a lot,” I said after gratefully accepting the water Isabelle offered. “I know about the astral realm, and Neptune. I remember being part of that family before this, and some of my other incarnations. I remember Venus…” I paused, feeling the deep affection I had for her, and wondering how much she had changed. “Still, I don’t understand all of it.”
“Good luck ever getting your head around it!” Liwanu said with a belly-laugh. “We’ll have to keep pushing on with it, until the time is right.”
“No, it’s time,” I said gravely. The Native American failed to hide his surprise and stepped towards me with concern written across his features. “I can’t explain it, but we need to go. I sense something has happened and if we don’t go now, we might be too late.”
“When did you get this feeling?” he asked, holding my shoulder. He placed one knee onto the grass and met my gaze levelly.
“I’ve only just become aware of it. Sometimes I get these hunches. I know my memories haven’t all come back yet, but I think we’ve done all we can for now.”
“It’s his connection with us all,” Harrison said, studying me closely. “His receptive nature must be able to pick up changes around us. What do you think, Liwanu?”
“We’ll go,” he said, squeezing my forearms with his hands. “Do you think you’ll have enough energy for the drive? We can sleep now, if you wish.”
“I don’t think we’ll have time for that,” I said, trying to sound more confident than I felt. “I’ll sleep in the van. Let’s go back to the hospital.”
“That’s what I’m seeing. I don’t know why, but I’m worried, Liwanu.”
“Okay, we’ll go. Harrison, we best get the engine started up.”
“Now we’re playing!” he growled, looking more cheerful than he had in some time. My instincts told me that we were heading for a series of events that would change all of our lives on an unprecedented scale.
“Here goes.” I said with a sigh, knowing that whatever came next was going to happen with or without my consent.