Chapter 11 An Interlude of Desperation
I couldn’t stop running. I felt that if I stopped, my mind would fall into despair and chaos. The world may have not yet been destroyed, but my world was certainly falling apart. There was nothing left of value. It was as though my own soul had been lost with Edith’s. I might as well have cut off my own head.
I stopped running when I reached the edge of that mysterious lake. Its shimmering surface cut through the darkness, making it painful to observe. I fell to my knees, gasping for air.
What am I to do? Destroy Nerys? It seemed that I had no choice. Destroying Nerys was the only way to save Edith, but could I place her life over Daiva’s. If I did somehow manage to reach the Omega Point and destroy Nerys, Daiva would surely die with it. Perhaps this was Edith’s plan all along? Did she know about the Omega Point?
Despite whether she had planned this or not, I had to follow through. When I next entered Nerys, I would have to at least try to destroy it. If I failed and was damned to that Hell, then at least I would be damned with my sister.
I stared at my reflection in the lake’s crystal waters. The hair on my head and face had become white as snow and my eyes had acquired a silver luster.
I laughed halfheartedly. “I look as though I’ve aged forty years. Perhaps I could dye my hair if I could find some meadowsweet or sumac leaves.”
I frantically searched for these ingredients and was able to find something similar to meadowsweet, though I couldn’t tell exactly, for it shared that bluish glow of the seren. I dug into the soft earth with my hands and allowed the lake water to flow into it. I then added the meadowsweet fixatives. Fortunately, the seren in the water must have possessed some acidic quality as the liquid quickly took on a rich, black hue. I placed my hands into the solution and used my newly acquired powers to boil it.
As I waited for the dye mixture to simmer, I unsheathed my sword and began to shave my face with it as best I could. It was not a very comfortable shave as I cut myself several times. Thankfully, my wounds healed with surprising speed. By the time I finished, the dye solution had fixated. I removed my gloves and cupped the black water in my hands. I ran it through my hair several times, periodically observing my reflection to ensure that I had a thick, even coating.
Once I was satisfied, I returned to the Rhiannon. All I could do now was go to Nerys and try to destroy it, whether I could reach the Omega Point or not. Mary and Daiva were both awaiting my arrival.
“Conrad, what happened to Edith?” Mary asked earnestly. “Please tell us! I’m sure that we’ll understand.”
I sat down in the center of the room and continued working on their outfits.
“Edith won’t be gone long, but soon I will . . .” I trailed off, focusing on my work.
“What do you mean? Where be you going?” Daiva asked, taking my arm.
Of course, how could I forget about Daiva? Who will take care of her after I am gone?
“I’m going to reach the Omega Point and destroy Nerys. It is the only way to put an end to all of this.”
“And what good would that do?” Mary asked sternly. She kneeled down to face me. “If you destroy Nerys, it will free all of the souls my brother and his men sacrificed, but it will not heal our society. The Gaelturi would lose their power, but that would not be the end of our struggle. Men and women everywhere would still be at odds, and who knows what laws my sister will enforce once she becomes the Matriarch?”
“I’m sorry, Mary, but if nothing else, I will rescue my sister from the agony of that world. She sacrificed herself to save me and now I will do the same.” I said flatly.
“Would your sister really want that?” Mary asked.
“No, but I didn’t want her to destroy herself, and yet she did.”
“Please don’t go, Conrad!” Daiva pleaded. I could see the tears in her eyes. She looked so pitiful.
“If I destroy Nerys, you will also regain your soul, Daiva.” I said, managing a smile.
“I don’t care about that!” She cried. “You are all that I have! If you go, I will be left alone! I will be so sad without you . . .”
I sighed. “You only think that because you are ignorant of what you had before. I’m sorry, but you must let me do this. There is nothing else left for me in this world.”
Mary stared at me with sadness in her eyes, though she did not shed a single tear. In fact, she looked somewhat relieved, as if she were finished with her life as well.
“I suppose I knew that you would leave all along.” She laughed. “I accept that our story is over. I won’t stop you, Conrad.”
I smiled. “Thank you. Now allow me to finish my work before we say farewell.”
Mary nodded and retired to the hold. Daiva, however, refused to leave my side. Without a word, she buried her head in my shoulder and wept.
“Daiva, you’ve not even known me for two days. Please do not act this way.”
“But you are being everything for me! What will I be doing without you?” She cried.
“Once your soul returns, you will understand why I had to leave you. What is my life compared to this world? The entire universe will succumb to darkness if I do not destroy Nerys!”
“Whatever harm Nerys will bring to this world, I can protect you from it! We could live together, just the two of us, for all eternity!” She yelled excitedly with madness in her eyes.
“Eternity? I never taught you that word . . .” I murmured.
I began to wonder if this was in fact the true Daiva who was begging me to stay by her side.
“I’m sorry, but no matter the alternative, my sister will suffer endless torment and I cannot allow that.” I said sternly and returned my attention to my work.
Daiva released me and slowly arose to her feet.
“Fine! If your sister is all that you care about then kill yourself for her! I’m sure she would appreciate it!” Daiva yelled and stomped off into the hold.
Once again, she had used words and spoken with rhetoric that I had never taught her. I decided to ignore it and focus completely on finishing my work. I was much more satisfied with my tailoring of Mary’s and Daiva’s outfits. I folded the uniforms over the back of the pilot’s chair and retired to the hold. I sat down at my desk and started writing my last entry. I guessed that Edith would return it to the Reich. Once I had finished, I began preparing for my final rest. I noticed that Daiva had already fallen asleep. I imagined her patiently awaiting me to awaken in Nerys.
Carefully, I lay down next to Edith’s unconscious body. Mary walked over to me and smiled.
“I didn’t even notice your new look.” She laughed. “I like it. You actually look my age.”
I laughed with her. “I’m sorry Mary, but this will save your mother and sister as well.” I said, trying to lighten her mood.
“Sister?” She murmured. “What are you talking about . . . I don’t have a sister.”
I gasped. Has her mind already begun to fall into darkness? Will her condition remain even after Nerys is destroyed? I began to wonder if I was making the right choice. How could I leave Mary, knowing what a terrible fate awaited her?
There was so much uncertainty in this plan that I nearly reconsidered it. The only thing that kept me on my course was Edith’s sacrifice.
“Don’t you think that if it was wise, my father would have destroyed Nerys long ago?” Mary speculated.
I made no response.
“It’s just a thought. Goodbye, Conrad. I love you.” She said, managing to smile all the way through. It was my last sight before I fell into unconsciousness and journeyed once again into that repulsive world.
When I awakened in Nerys, I was greeted by Daiva, still wearing her black nightgown and sitting upright on the edge of the bed.
“I suppose you know what I intend to do?” I asked, stumbling out of the bed.
“To run away and leave your world to die a slow and agonizing death—yes, I am aware,” she said, her form unmoving.
“Run away?” I laughed. “The Gaelturi are the ones running away. I am going to save my world; they would have left it to perish.”
She sighed. “No one wants to solve problems anymore. All you people ever do is run away.”
I walked around the room to face Daiva. She arose and stared into my eyes, awaiting my response.
“And how am I to fix this world?” I asked, crossing my arms. “I’m an engineer, not some prophet.”
“If anyone can bring light into that desolate world, it is you. Did you not see how your presence changed the Matriarchy? You and your sister gave them hope that the world could return to a state where all humans lived in harmony.”
“You’re an idealist, aren’t you?” I sighed. “Do you believe that where I’m from, humans live in harmony?”
Daiva laughed and clasped my shoulder.
“Excuse me. I should remember who I’m speaking to. Tell me, Conrad, do you love Mary?” She asked curiously.
“Why does that concern you?”
“Why would it not?”
I sighed and turned away from her.
“And what if I do?”
“Then you would be a fool to leave her like this, and it would make my plan much easier. If you don’t then I will have to take a much more active role and you wouldn’t like that at all. The horrors of Nerys are much more terrifying when witnessed in the mortal world.”
I sat down on the bed and put my head in my hands.
“I don’t know . . .” I breathed. “I want to love her, but I feel so empty. I’m sure that you’re aware of my condition. I am not a man.”
Daiva sat down next to me.
“You’re right. You’re not a man. A true man wouldn’t let a bullet debilitate him in such a way as you have. When will you wake up and start living again?”
I stared at her in awe. I couldn’t believe what she had said. It was perhaps the most caring thing anyone had ever said to me, concerning my impediment.
“Do you realize how close you were to wasting everything Edith has done for you?” She asked sternly.
“What do you mean?”
“Why do you think Edith freed Gael?”
I thought for a moment. I couldn’t think of anything besides what she had told me.
“My sister thought that he would help me. That is all she said.” I murmured.
“Think harder. What was troubling you before Gael was released? You were about to make a decision, were you not?”
I gasped. “Of course. I was about to return to the Reich.” I said, my voice shaking.
“Yes, and your sister knew that you weren’t ready to go back. You’re still lost. And why do you think she brought Mary and me along with you on her escape?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked away in shame.
“I can’t say it.” I choked out.
She grabbed me by my shoulders. “It was because she knew that Mary and I were the only ones who could bring you out of your darkness. Her plan was that you would fall in love with Mary and the two of you would raise me like your child. It was her last wish—for you to wake up and live again!”
“Enough!” I yelled, jumping to my feet. “I was wrong to run away! Now, what would you have me do?”
Daiva smiled and took my hand.
“Live happily with Mary while you can. I’m not sure how long her mental health will hold, so take advantage of every second. Then, when the Gaelturi arrive, defeat Gael together and let the men see the lives that they threw away for some fantasy. That is the only way to truly save this world. We’ll discuss the fate of Nerys after you accomplish that.”
“I understand.” I said with a brisk nod.
“Good. Now, get to work.” Daiva said and promptly knocked me unconscious with a swift uppercut.
I awoke back on Haul and my ears were greeted with a shrill scream. It was Mary, of course.
“What happened, Conrad? You came back.” She asked, taking my hand. Apparently, she hadn’t left my side.
She had obviously been crying as her dress was stained with tears.
“Yes, I could not go through with it.” I smiled. “I simply couldn’t leave you, Mary, and I doubt that Edith would want me to try to compete with her sacrifice. I apologize for frightening you.”
Mary laughed. “Of course she wouldn’t! We tried to tell you that.”
I nodded and clasped Edith’s hand as she lay beside me. I’m doing this for you, Edith. It was all you ever wanted.
“What should we do now, Conrad?” She asked. “Thankfully, we should all be able to survive on this planet now that the seren poisoning no longer affects us.”
It was true that surviving on Haul would now be much easier thanks to Daiva and Edith, but I was unsure as to what the future held for Mary.
How long will it be before she forgets everything?
I took Mary’s hand and said, “We’re going to build a more permanent shelter.”
“You mean . . . a house? Why would we need one when we have the Rhiannon?” She asked.
“We’re building a house because I said we are. Obviously, the Gaelturi are not anxious to return to Haul and in the meantime, I think we should try to live more comfortably. We could be here a long time.”
I arose to my feet and walked onto the bridge. I observed the radar, silent as usual. Mary followed me.
“And just how do you intend to construct this house?” She asked, crossing her arms. “We don’t have any large tools such as axes or shovels.”
“I am aware of that. I intend to construct a house by using the one resource this planet has in abundance: Seren.” I said brightly. “It is a very hard crystal. I think that it will make an adequate substitute for iron or steel.”
“I can’t deny that, Conrad, but how do you expect to work with seren? Do you realize how high the temperature must be in order to work it? The only thing we have capable of producing such heat is our engine, though it’s not like we’d be able to shape it without being reduced to ashes ourselves.”
“That is simple, Mary. I recently discovered that my newfound powers allow me to generate an extreme amount of thermal energy. Daiva and I can shape the Seren with our own hands.”
Mary thought for a moment and nodded. “You’re as brilliant as ever. It’s good to have you back, Conrad.” She said with a smile.
I took upon a more serious expression and embraced her.
“So you still remember me from before?” I asked, my voice but a whisper.
“Yes, of course I do.” She frowned. “What’s the matter, Conrad? You look worried.”
I faltered. How was I supposed to tell her that her mind would soon fade?
“Mary, I don’t know how to say this but . . .” I trailed off, thinking of how to best put it into words.
Mary waited patiently. She had looked so happy since I returned from Nerys. How could I warn her of her own doom?
“. . . I love you!” I exclaimed.
Curse my tongue!
Mary smiled brightly and held me closer.
“Oh, I understand, Conrad.” She laughed. “You want to build this house so you can live a little more comfortably with me.”
I could not deny it. She was not wrong, for I was only obeying Daiva and making her last days as pleasant as possible.
“Yes, you’re right, Mary.”
“Are you serious?” She asked in shock. “Wow! No argument or scientific reasoning? What happened to you, Conrad?”
I laughed. “No, I just want you and Daiva to be content while we’re here.”
Mary smiled and leaned her head against my chest. “Thank you,” she breathed. Her voice insinuated some degree of sadness. I wondered if she was aware that her mind was withering away to nothing. It was possible, considering how enlightened she was of the future.
I suppose that if I want her to know, all I have to do is write it down in my journal.It was a disconcerting thought—knowing that I controlled her knowledge of her fate with a simple pen.
Once Daiva awoke, we had a light breakfast of vegetables and set out to gather materials for our project. Obviously, Daiva would be able to cover far more ground than Mary and I could even with the Rhiannon. I thought it best to have her search for a vein of seren while Mary and I designed the structure and cleared land to be certain that it would be level.
Soon after, Daiva returned, having gathered a large amount of raw seren. We immediately went to work making tools. It was difficult work, especially in the unending darkness of Haul. Once we had finished, we each had a set of axes, adzes, shovels, saws, and pickaxes all made of that brilliant crystal.
Satisfied with the quality of our equipment, we began gathering timber and spent the rest of the day, if one could call it that, building the house. Once we had finished the main structure, Daiva began working on the roof while I carved out some furniture and made hinges for the door. I also carved several sticks of seren to be used like torches, for light now had twice its value.
At last, the structure was in livable condition. We sat down at the table, weary from our long day of labor. It was a comfortable living space as the seren not only provided light but heat as well.
Mary sighed and leaned back in her chair. “How are we going to make beds?” She asked, “Wasn’t the purpose of this project to live comfortably?”
“Give me a moment . . .” I murmured.
Daiva rose from her seat and said, “Don’t you remember, Mary? There were beds in that outpost we raided. We could make use of those.”
“That would be perfect!” I exclaimed. “Will you lead us there?”
Daiva nodded and left the house. I began to follow her but stopped when I noticed that Mary had not moved.
“Is something the matter?” I asked.
She sighed and touched her hand to her forehead.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t remember raiding any outpost with Daiva.”
Already, she was forgetting things so recent. She had only looted that outpost this morning and it was even after she had taken some of Daiva’s power. I couldn’t help but wonder if she would forget me as well, but would that really be such a bad thing? After all, I cannot stay here, and she wouldn’t be grieved after I left if she simply forgot me.
I walked behind her and embraced her neck.
“Do you understand your situation?” I whispered.
She nodded slightly and leaned her head against my arm.
“Are you afraid?”
“Only that I might forget you. You’re all I have, Conrad, and to lose you—”
“That’s enough.” I turned her chair around to face me.
“I’m not going anywhere, Mary. If you forget me, I’ll stay by your side. There’s no reason to fear.” I assured her.
She smiled and embraced me.
“Thank you. Now go and find us a bed. I’m anxious to finally sleep with you again.” Mary then shoved me toward the door, concluding our conversation.
Daiva awaited me outside. She bore a very serious expression, one I only saw on her face in Nerys. She looked at me as if to say, “Know your priorities.” Of course, stopping Gael would take precedence over simple living like this, but Gael had shown no sign of arriving on Haul, so I saw no reason not to build a permanent dwelling.
Unfortunately, the beds at the outpost were quite heavy, so we had to make two trips. I made sure to check on Edith while we were out as well. Once we had retrieved the beds, I began working on building our separate rooms. Daiva said that she didn’t mind sleeping alone and that we should share a bed. Of course, I knew that she was only saying this because she too, was aware of Mary’s disability.
Once we had finished the two rooms, we had a light dinner and went out to the lake for a bath. Of course, Daiva insisted that I bathe her. Mary said that she did not mind, so I did as she asked. Once we were clean, we returned home, eager to rest after a long day of constant labor. I threw my coat off and sat down on the edge of the bed. Mary then entered the room, wearing her green dress from before. She had cut off most of the material and now wore it as a piece of sleeping lingerie. I couldn’t think of why she would destroy such a beautiful ball gown just to sleep in it more comfortably, but perhaps she had realized how much I liked the dress.
She sat down next to me and asked, “What do you think?”
“It was an amazing dress,” I sighed, “It seems a waste to destroy it like that.”
Mary smiled. “It’s quality material. I only wished to get as much use out of it as possible.”
I nodded. “Yes, I see . . .”
She leaned her head on my shoulder and sighed.
“What a nice bath that was. The water was so warm.”
She was silent for a moment and suddenly grabbed my arm. I looked over at her to find tears streaming down her cheeks.
“I’ve always loved you, haven’t I, Conrad?” She exclaimed. “I have to love you! Please, tell me that I do!”
I embraced her tightly. She was already forgetting me. I never thought it possible, but she was. It had all happened so quickly.
How could we live like this? I would have given anything for another day with her!
“Of course you love me.” I breathed. “You always have and you always will.”
Her eyes widened and she smiled.
“I do? Yes, that’s right. I loved you even before I knew you,” she whispered and leaned in closer to my face, “and I will love you even after I forget you.”
Her words were too much to bear. Her love for me was unending; she did not care what happened to her as long as I stayed by her side. Despite this, I could not even return a portion of her feelings. I was no engineer, but simply a monster.
“Why do you love me, Mary?” I asked, releasing her.
She gave me a puzzled look.
“I’m sorry, Conrad, but I can’t remember . . .” She murmured. “Don’t you love me?”
I sighed. “I’m not a man, Mary.”
She frowned. “What are you talking about? Of course you are!”
I laughed and shook my head.
“What man does not shed a single tear for his sister’s death? What man is unable to love the woman who is willing to sacrifice everything for him? You love me without reason; I have every reason to love you, yet I refuse! How can I be a man?”
Mary held my hands and leaned in closer—our noses nearly touching.
“I believe that you admitting that means you obviously love me. You don’t have to have romantic feelings to love someone, Conrad. Those feelings are fleeting. True love is founded on devotion and selflessness, and I’m sure that you have both of those; otherwise, you wouldn’t have done all of this for me—making my last days as pleasant as possible.”
I stared at her in awe. Even with her mind in a daze, she understood the world in ways I never could. There was no science to support her claims, yet the engineer was beginning to understand them. It was like she had said before. Love isn’t a feeling but an action, a sacrifice.
“What will happen to you, Mary? You must know! Surely I would write it down in my journal.”
“No, I don’t.” She sighed. “I’m sorry, Conrad, but if you did, I don’t remember it.”
Mary was utterly helpless. For all I knew, this could be her last night. I touched her cheek and kissed her. She gasped and closed her eyes. I wished that it would never end, and I knew that she did as well. I released her at last and she smiled brightly.
“Then I refuse to waste what little time we have left in conflict with myself. I love you, Mary, and I can say that with sincerity because of you.”
“Conrad . . .”
I embraced her, tightly pressing my face against her hair. “You could forget me entirely, you could lose your sanity, or you might even die. Your future is too uncertain for me to squander in self-pity. If I did that I might as well kill you myself. Mary, if there’s anything you want, just tell me.”
She spoke without hesitation, “I want you to marry me.”
I faltered. I did not expect her to say something like that, especially so outright. I wondered if she had forgotten that I would eventually have to return to the Reich.
I finally spoke, “All right then. It might not be very formal but I pledge my love and life to you for you to take and use as you see fit. I will stay by your side always, and support you in times of strength and weakness.”
Mary nodded and said, “And I will do the same. May my love bring you the resolve to face whatever darkness awaits you.”
Her words resonated within me. Had I not already faced this darkness?
“Thank you. Whatever evil befalls us, it will never tear us apart.”
I had never felt so relieved. The anxiety that had long burdened my mind was gone at last. Mary seemed quite relieved as well. However, I knew that everything would not simply work out like that. Even if we were able to stop Gael and destroy Nerys, Mary would still suffer severe damage to her brain, if not lose her mind entirely.
“Well, we should rest. It’s been a long day.” I said and lay back on the bed.
It was a standard military cot. It certainly wasn’t the most comfortable bed, but better than the floor. Being built for the large Gaelturi men, the bed was too large for a man my size but too small for the two of us.
“Yes . . . Of course,” she sighed and lay down beside me, “you’ve worked hard today.”
“Hardly!” I laughed. “Daiva did all of the heavy lifting.”
She laughed with me and asked, “Then you aren’t tired?”
“No, not particularly,” I murmured. “Aren’t you?”
To my surprise, I actually caught on to her plan. I decided to stop her before she could press the matter any further.
“Well, we still have quite a bit of work to do tomorrow, so we need our rest.” I said and hastily pulled the thin cover up to my shoulders.
“Really?” She placed her hand on her chin. “We don’t have that much work to do tomorrow, do we?”
My feint had failed. Obviously, I would have to be more convincing.
“Of course we do! Our effort to living a life of luxury on this dark rock has just begun.”
She frowned. “And what exactly do you plan to do, Mr. Engineer, to attain this life of luxury?”
This was my chance. I could think of a dozen things any man of the Second Reich needed to live comfortably.
“To start, we’ll need to dig a canal from the lake to our house. Then, we’ll have to build a mill along with a water wheel to grind our wheat. We’ll need a telegraph line from here to the Rhiannon and, consequently, you and Daiva will have to learn Morse code. Oh, and how could I forget that the two of you are unarmed? We’ll need muskets as well as—”
“I understand, Conrad.” She rolled over with her back to me. “If you didn’t want to have sex with me, you could have just said so.”
Perhaps that wasn’t the most mature response to a situation like that, but I truly saw no reason for our relationship to develop to such an intimate level. What good would it do to bring a child into this dying world? Even if we stopped Gael and destroyed Nerys, the world would still be broken. Could men and women ever coexist again? It was obvious that Mary couldn’t care less about her brother. Then there was Daiva who still loved her brother dearly and from what I had observed, the Gaelturi men had lost any sense of humanity. It just all looked so bleak. Though, perhaps a child was what she needed . . . what we needed—a reason to fix this world. Was I not also running away by fleeing to the Reich? How was I any different from the Gaelturi?
I looked over at Mary. Judging by her short breaths, I could tell that she was still awake. I put my arm around her waist. She shuddered and I remembered the massive scar that was carved into the entire front of her body. I began to withdraw my hand when she grabbed it and forced it against her stomach.
“Is it my scar?” She asked, releasing my hand. “Is that why you do not find me desirable?”
I gawked at her. “Of course not! Don’t you remember? I told you that it was beautiful.”
She rolled over and stared into my eyes. “No, I don’t remember! I can’t even remember how I got this scar.”
It was then that I truly began to pity Mary in this condition. I recalled how much she once loved that scar because it had brought her closer to her sister than she had ever been. To think that she now saw it as a hideous mark, deserving of shame, was heartbreaking.
“Conrad, do you have any idea how I feel?” She embraced me and pulled me as close to her as possible. I could see her eyes clearly as they shone with tears. “I’m terrified . . . Soon, I’m going to lose you and I can’t do anything about it. I won’t even be able to recognize you. I’ll even forget the vows we just took! My love for you will fade away! Could I lose anything more precious?”
What could I say to her? There were no words that could ease her suffering. All I could do was hold her.
“I don’t care what happens to you, Mary.” I kissed her. “I will always love you. I don’t care if you forget me. I just want you by my side.
Mary smiled and wiped away her tears.
“Thank you, Conrad, but I want to do more than live; I want to love.” Mary laughed. “I suppose I’ll just have to fall in love with you again. It won’t be hard.”
With those words she closed her eyes and fell asleep in my arms. She looked so surreal as the light of the Seren reflected off of her skin, giving it a silver luster. Despite the tears that stained her face, she was smiling ever so slightly.
I kissed her forehead and whispered, “Good night, Mary.” For a moment, I thought I saw her smile widen a bit.
Dismissing it, I closed my eyes as well and fell asleep. When I awakened in Nerys, I was surprised to find that Daiva was not in the bedroom. Perhaps she had nothing to say to me tonight. Despite this, I could not bear spending my time in Nerys alone, so I went down to the parlor to see if she was there. When I entered the large living room, she was, in fact, sitting in her chair, drinking that strange wine.
“What are you doing here so early?” She asked, already pouring a glass for me. “I’m only on my sixth glass.”
I sat down across from her and took the glass. “Weren’t you expecting me? We retired at the same time, did we not?”
“Yes, but I thought that you and Mary would stay up a little longer”—she sighed—“quite a bit longer, actually.”
I took a drink and felt the sensation of heightened awareness. “We didn’t do anything intimate, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”
Daiva crushed the glass in her hand, spilling wine onto the floor.
“You fool!” She rose from her chair and jumped across the table so that she now loomed over me. “Do you not understand how desperate she is? That girl is about to lose everything and you wouldn’t even express your love to her? I’ll be honest with you Conrad, that makes me sick!”
I downed the glass and slammed it on to the table. “I’ve only known her for two weeks!”
“To you, it might be two weeks, but to Mary, she’s known you her entire life, ever since she read your journal.” She leaned in closer to me. “I don’t think you truly understand how much you mean to her. She sees this as her death. In her mind, if she loses you, she loses her own life.”
“Of course I understand! I told her that I would never leave her side! We even took vows of marriage!”
Her eyes widened and she backed away from me.
“Oh, you did, did you? What happened to only knowing her for two weeks?” Daiva smiled mischievously. She had me; I had walked right into her trap.
I crossed my arms. “I felt as though I would be taking advantage of her in her desperation.” I said flatly.
Daiva laughed. “Really? I disagree. I think that you’re still afraid of stumbling down your father’s path. You don’t want to abandon your child like he did.”
I did not protest. There was no use in denying it.
“You have no idea what I have suffered! Edith and I were raised by the Devil, and my heart has been black since I was a boy! We grew up as urchins, hating the world and God! No, it was the Devil that kept us alive, so that our hatred and grief could fester. Now we are his servants, enemies of God and all things good!” I arose to my feet and grabbed her by her shoulders. “I am a vile, vile man, Daiva . . . How can you expect me to restore this world?”
Despite my outburst, Daiva remained quite calm. “You are not my enemy, but I do not consider myself good by any standard. Just look at me, Conrad! I sold my soul to gain this power because I thought I could use it to heal the world. I don’t know what I was thinking . . . Evil cannot be destroyed with more evil. I gave up on that dream a long time ago. Now I am bound to this maddening world for all eternity and soon, I will lose everything I hold dear.” She smirked. “I suppose you really are my brother. We were both raised by the same father, the Father of Lies.”
“I’m sorry,” I murmured.” I had forgotten how much you have suffered as well. I suppose everyone from your time has some hatred for the world.”
She nodded. “Yes, we have served our father well. His twisted designs are nearly complete. Soon, we will destroy the world for him, but is that not what we have desired all along?”
“You’re wrong!” I yelled vehemently. “You know as well as I do that God chooses the most wretched of sinners for His purposes. We can win this, I know it! I won’t serve our father any longer! I won’t let him win!”
Daiva sighed heavily. “Why do you want to save this world? Wouldn’t you love to watch it burn, to see God lose?”
“No, I can’t do that!” I sobbed fiercely. “I have to prove my father wrong, to show him that I’m not a monster and that I was worth keeping!”
She embraced me tenderly and I wept into her shoulder. “Oh, Conrad . . .” She whispered.
It was the first time I could remember crying since the war. It felt wonderful to finally release all of that anguish and guilt that had been seething within me. I had failed Edith and Mary. My sister was on the verge of drowning in her darkness, and now Mary was about to lose everything. Though, most of all, I had failed myself. I should have never given up on God. I had been wasting away in my hatred, doomed to live out my days as a shadow of a man. I had to turn around before it was too late.
“Daiva, how much time does Mary have left?”
She sighed. “When you awaken, she will not even know your name.”
“What?” I stepped away from her in disbelief. “Do you mean that that was Mary’s last night with me, her last chance to express her love?”
She nodded. “You made a mistake. Learn from it.”
I gritted my teeth. “Mary must have known the exact day she would lose her memory by the entry dates in my journal . . .” I slammed my fist on the table. “That’s why she was so desperate. She could have told me, but she didn’t want my love out of pity. I’m such a fool!”
Daiva clenched her fists. “I thought you said that you would stop feeling sorry for yourself?”
I nodded. “Yes, I did. My apologies, but what should I do now?”
She thought for a moment. “Well, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to earn Mary’s love again. You should still have some time before she completely loses her sanity. Once that happens, Nerys will invade her mind, and she will become its servant, much like what I am, though not quite as sociable and charming.”
“And how long will that take?” I asked.
“No more than three days, I’d say.”
I gasped. “Three days? That’s all she has before she becomes a slave to Nerys?”
She nodded. “I think I’ll allow my full consciousness to enter into your world now. You’ll need my help, and it won’t be much fun anymore now that you’ll have to dote over Mary as well.”
“Thank you. I would appreciate that . . .” I murmured.
Daiva laughed. “Cherish these three days. Don’t let her slip away without knowing how much you loved her.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes. Thank you again.”
“Yes, you will.” She said as she laid back on one of the sofas. I did the same.
“Three days . . .” I breathed. “Three days and she’ll be gone forever. What a brave woman . . .”
I awakened on Haul to find Mary, asleep in my arms. Her skin was still glistening like the moon. I waited in silence until her eyes finally opened. She stared blankly at me and then down at herself. She screamed when she saw what she was wearing and released me.
“Wow! This is embarrassing. I’m really sorry about this.” Mary said and smiled innocently. “I can’t remember a thing. I must’ve been really drunk last night.”
She laughed uncomfortably and pulled the cover up to her neck.
I laughed with her. “It’s fine, Mary. There’s no need to be ashamed.”
“Mary? Is that my name?” I nodded. “So you know me? I’m sorry but I don’t recognize you . . . Who are you?”
I smiled. “My name is Conrad and I’m your husband.”
Her eyes widened and she smiled delightfully. “My husband? Well, I don’t mind that.”
She relaxed and embraced me again. “How long have we been married?”
“Oh, since last night.” I said and put my arm around her.
“Last night? It’s still night, isn’t it?” Mary asked, looking out the seren-pane window.
I nodded. “Yes, there is no day on this planet. It is submerged in eternal darkness.”
“Really? That’s kind of romantic, I guess . . .”
I laughed at her calm response. “Yes, I suppose it is.”
Mary sighed and gazed intently into my eyes. “I’m sorry, Conrad. It’s really frustrating that I can’t remember you. I’m sure I must have loved you dearly.”
“You did and I loved you as well.” I smiled. “I still do and always will.”
She tenderly caressed my face. “Oh, don’t worry, Conrad. I love you too. It would be rude to stop loving you just because I forgot you. Besides, I can feel that we share a strong bond somehow and without you I would be wondering aimlessly without my memory.”
I was surprised at how comfortable she had become around me. She simply accepted that we were married and was content.
Her face reddened. “Um . . . So, are we on our honeymoon?”
I laughed. “I suppose you could call it that.”
“All right then, what should we do?”
“Whatever you want, Mary?”
She thought for a moment and smiled. “Well, first off, I’d like to do this.”
She leaned in and kissed me quite passionately. Perhaps she thought that it would restore some of her memory.
Mary laughed pleasantly and said, “That was fun. At least I got to have another first kiss with you.” She rolled her eyes. “I guess I’ll get to have a lot of firsts with you again.”
It was strange to witness her carefree attitude. Her smile belonged to one who had never experienced loss or suffering. At least she had also forgotten the misery that had been like a shroud over her.
I sat up presently. “Why don’t we go for a walk?”
“That sounds nice, though, I hope I have other outfits besides,” she looked down at herself, “this.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at how shy she had become.
“Yes, I actually made one for you. It’s outside, drying.” I arose and walked over to the door. “Wait here a moment.”
I left the room and stepped outside. The silence of this planet was truly unbearable. There was no sentient life at all, not even a single insect. There was nothing but darkness and the eerie glow of the plant life that fed off of the seren’s heat. I retrieved Mary’s uniform that she had washed and hung on a tree branch.
Afterward, I checked on Daiva in her room to find that she was gone. I wasn’t particularly worried about her. She had said that she planned to restore her consciousness, so she was probably taking initiative and performing tasks that she deemed necessary.
Dismissing the issue, I returned to our room. Upon my entry, Mary suddenly leaped out from behind the door and tackled me to the floor. It took every ounce of my will to keep from screaming. She hadn’t lost any of her strength—in fact, it seemed as though she had become even stronger after absorbing some of Daiva’s power.
Mary laughed playfully as she lay on top of me. I tried to laugh with her, despite the agonizing pain I was experiencing.
“Are you all right, Conrad?”
I smiled through gritted teeth. “I’m fine . . .”
Carefully, she helped me to my feet and brushed the dirt off of my back.
She cringed when she was finished. I must have looked quite ragged. “Sorry about that, dear.”
“Dear?” I murmured.
She hit me on the shoulder. “You!”
“Oh, of course . . .” I handed her the uniform and she began to change into it.
She removed the sleeping lingerie and let out a piercing scream.
“What is this—this scar?” She covered her front with the dress. “Oh, it’s hideous! Don’t look at me, dear!”
I pitied her now that her scar no longer reminded her of that pleasant memory with her sister. “I think that your scar is beautiful, Mary”—she looked up at me and smiled—“I always have.”
“You really like it, do you?” She threw the sleeping garment onto the bed. “Then why don’t I just go out like this?”
I laughed uneasily. “No, you need to wear something. We might run into the Gaelturi.”
Mary paused. “The Gaelturi? Who are they?”
How could I be so careless? There was no need for Mary to know about the war or the evil that I would soon face.
“They’re . . . the police! You could be arrested for public indecency!”
“Oh, I see.” Mary returned her attention to the scar. “So how did I get this scar? Wait! I know! There was a reactor meltdown and just as a deadly photon blast surged toward you, I jumped in front of you and the blast nearly tore my body to shreds! Then, you pulled me out of the debris and carried me in your arms until you found a hospital where I spent several months recovering, but you never left my side!”
“Yes, it was something like that.” Again, it was better for her to remain ignorant of the war, though, what a fantasy—as if a photon blast would travel so slowly that she could react to it. It seemed that her disability had not halted her imagination.
She wrapped her arms around me. “Oh, Conrad, you’re my hero!”
“Your hero wants you to get dressed.”
Mary blushed and released me. “Oh, of course . . . Sorry.”
She hastily got into her uniform and took my arm. “I’m ready to go.”
I threw on my coat and we began our walk down to the lake. Mary immediately began observing the strange planet and asking me several questions. I suppose anyone would be quite inquisitive after losing their memory.
“It’s so quiet out here. Why is that?”
“This world is unable to support animal life. The only reason we have survived is thanks to our adaptations.”
“Oh, I see. Is that why we decided to go here for our honeymoon, because it was so remote?”
I laughed. “Yes, that was one reason, I suppose.”
“Well, I’m glad we did. It’s very beautiful, though, not nearly as beautiful as you.”
I smiled and held her closer. It seemed that she was making an effort to just be herself and accept what was happening to her. I greatly admired her for it.
“I want to know all about you, Conrad. What are your interests? What do you love about me?”
I thought for quite some time. Just what exactly did I love about her?
“I’m an engineer,” I said at last, “and you were one as well. We bonded together over our work and I fell in love with you. At first, all I loved about you was your intelligence and scientific achievements.” I frowned. “I was an incredibly shallow person and still am at times. Eventually, I realized how much you were suffering from your life of constant struggle and pain. I wanted to make you happy—to see you smile. I wanted to take away that suffering and see the bright, cheerful girl that you are now. So, don’t regret losing your memories. Most of them were full of anguish and I love the woman you’ve become.”
Mary gazed into my eyes. “Wow! That’s very noble of you, Conrad. All you wanted to do was help me. You didn’t want anything from me but to see me smile.” She laughed. “I feel like I need to repay you . . .”
I shook my head. “Believe me, Mary, I don’t deserve anything from you.”
She looked down at her feet. “If you say so . . .”
I stopped when I noticed that the lake was nearly in sight.
“Close your eyes, Mary.” I whispered.
She obeyed and I took her hand. I led her to the edge of the lake.
“All right. You may look now.”
Mary opened her eyes and gasped as she beheld the blue, shimmering waters of the lake.
“It’s amazing! Oh, Conrad, I will always cherish this place. It will be our sanctuary, set apart from the rest of the world. Here, we will love and laugh together forever!”
How charismatic she had become! Yesterday’s Mary would have never said anything like that. Though, I still regretted how I had treated her. I began to realize that perhaps our lives were better this way.
She released my hand and stepped into the water.
“It’s warm! Oh, I love this planet!” Mary exclaimed as she removed her uniform and threw it onto the ground.
She swam farther into the lake and beckoned for me to follow.
“Don’t just stand there, Conrad! It feels great!”
I called out, “I’ll join you shortly!”
Truly, the last thing I wanted was to touch those foul waters again. The memory of the pain it caused me was not so distant. I hung my coat on a tree limb and began unbuttoning my shirt. Once I had finished undressing, I swam out to where she stood. It was still a somewhat shallow part of the lake, the water only reaching my waist. The blue light from the water radiated off of her skin, making her shine even brighter than the stars themselves.
“I must say, Mary, you are breathtaking!” I exclaimed.
She blushed and laughed pleasantly. “Thank you, dear. I—ugh!” She suddenly gripped her head in pain.
“Mary! What’s wrong?” I demanded.
She let out a maddening scream as the water around us turned blood red and began to boil. Ignoring the pain, I cradled Mary in my arms and ran with all my might until those foul waters were behind us. Her body was burning tremendously. Startled, I dropped her onto the ground. Once her form had touched the innocent surface, the grass about her began to wither and die as though the evil within her had corrupted the beauty of nature itself. Was Nerys already attempting to enter her body?
There was a sudden flash as a wave of heat burned my back. I looked over my shoulder to see a horrifying sight: The lake had caught fire. I threw myself over Mary as the flames leaped out at us, licking my body. Beneath me, Mary still screamed in agony. I lifted her up in my arms once more and ran from the fire as fast as I could. She was still burning up; I felt as though my entire body would burst into flames.
I was only a few strides from reaching the forest when I stumbled and dropped her. Something had grabbed my ankle. I gasped as my entire right leg went numb—the nerves completely destroyed. I looked over my shoulder to find a giant, black tentacle wrapped around my leg. I knew exactly what it was. How could I forget such an abomination as the Devourer? The horror began dragging me back toward the lake. All rational thought left my mind and was replaced with desperation and madness.
“Mary, help me!” I cried, reaching out to her.
I could not even hear my own voice as it was drowned out by the earsplitting roar of the Devourer. The monstrous limb hoisted me into the air where I dangled helplessly over its gaping maw that was the entire diameter of the lake. I could not even muster a scream as I stared down its throat at the endless rows of teeth leading down into an all-consuming darkness. The creature laughed, the folds of black flesh around its mouth expanding and contracting as I whimpered like a child.
My fear was not of death but of living. I wanted more than anything to die and escape this hellish horror. Then, the tentacle released me and I was falling into that cosmic rift of depravity. I could already hear the screams of the damned crying out to me. Edith’s was among them. I would be with her soon. That was all that mattered to me.
Just as the darkness began to envelope me, I felt a strong arm wrap around my chest and pull me out of the Devourer’s maw. I looked up at my savior. It was Daiva, though in my insanity I thought her an angel sent by God. Her expression was so calm and stern. She remained steadfast amidst the surrounding turmoil. The Devourer let out another roar as its membranous limbs reached out to grab us out of the air. Daiva evaded them and flew over to where Mary lay, gasping for breath. She laid my back against a nearby tree and returned her attention to the monster. Several tentacles swatted at her. She grabbed each of them with her bare hands and ripped them apart. I stared at her in awe as she tore the creature’s limbs asunder, each one the diameter of a tree trunk. The mangled appendages retreated and Daiva launched herself into the sky. She flew through the sky like a meteor and, to my horror, dove down into the abyss of the Devourer! After a long moment of silence, a beam of white light shot out of the monster and into the sky. The demon unleashed a piercing cry as it withered away. Once it had vanished, the water rose back up out of the ground, replenishing the lake. Soon, the clearing had returned to its previous beauty, though I no longer saw any appeal in this vista.
I looked over at Mary who was struggling to sit up.
“Mary, are you all right?” I asked, reaching out to her.
She took my hand and leaned back against the tree with me.
Her entire body was trembling. “What was that thing?”
I was still shaken as well, but I spoke as best as I could. “It was the Devourer, a monster that threatens to consume our world and plunge it into eternal darkness. I’m not sure how it got here so quickly . . .”
My sister’s screams echoed in my mind. We had been spared, but her suffering would never end until I destroyed Nerys. Daiva then landed in front of us. She was covered in black blood.
She wiped her face and said, “It’s gone . . . for now.”
“Daiva, you are our savior! I cannot thank you enough! Mary, this is Daiva, my friend and counselor.”
Mary looked at her with disgust. “Nice to meet you . . .”
Daiva indicated my leg. “Don’t thank me yet.”
I looked down at my right leg and gasped. It had been charred down to the bone. Most of the flesh had crumbled away and what remained was black as ash. I was thankful that I was unable to feel it.
Mary clasped her hands over her mouth and screamed. It was quite an ugly sight.
Daiva sighed and observed the blackened limb. “You’ll be fine. I can heal your leg, but it won’t be pretty.”
I touched my thigh and a part of it broke off. “I don’t care for appearance, so long as it’s functional.”
Daiva nodded and helped me stand. I leaned against her, dragging the useless limb behind me. Mary quickly ran over to me and helped me to balance myself.
“We have to get out of here. The Gaelturi are bound to be here soon.”
We hurried off into the forest, leaving that dreadful place behind. All the while, Edith’s screams reverberated throughout my entire body.