20 juin 2015

Chapter 18

At this point I don’t know what feels longer: the heavy, uneasy silence while we walk on grass, or that sinister wall of smoke, spreading on and on to our left, and keeping us all on edge. 

His brother did this. And the deeply troubled look he got when I asked him about these fuming ruins wasn’t a first: the same frown was there when Vlad was discussing the route around the Pathavane. Argh... I wish I could remember everything he’d said then, and what exactly had triggered the emotion still so rawly and distinctly etched on Peter’s face.

To our right is a string of small, green hills – or more like immobile ripples, which I assume are still within Vladimir’s Space. As for what lies ahead, I can’t really tell... All I can see, in the far distance, is an origami-like crest of colourful light beams, rising up from the earth, and billowing slowly like an aurora borealis. Their sheer beauty distracts me from the gloomy ambiance, and my entire being seems to suddenly be riveted by that place.    

Out of nowhere, a blue Lume materializes, as if breaking suddenly from its speedy momentum at the sight of its intended addressee: Peter. He ushers it into his ear, and his features seem to relax, finally.  

“Sam welcomes us. Good thing we got the Lume this quick; or else we would have had to wait for it outside the Space,” he tells me, didactically. 

I add “good manners” to my mental list of attributes for this people; a list that also contains “anti-PDA”, “no esteem for how awesome food is”, and of course, “take for granted the fact that someone they’ve kidnapped and turned into a freak would still find this place so amazing that she wouldn’t even long to leave”.  But then, when I look at the spectrum of colours in the distance, I’m in a state of fidgety curiosity. Could I actually be at risk of getting too enthralled by this world, and end up losing focus of... who I am, and where I would rather be?  

I shake my head. Erik. Ginny. Oda. No. No chance I’m losing perspective.

The light beams grow nearer and I start to distinguish their edges. They look like two-dimensional layers and layers of intricate colour variations, each leaning in a different direction, and merging in their intersections to form the most beautiful palette. What seems strange though, are their tops: the beams don’t fade out like normal light would, but they’re very clearly cut off in random, sharp lines. 

The crest grows higher and more complex as we get closer, and my eyes almost pop out of their orbits from all the staring. So much so that, in a very quick and very embarrassing second, I feel myself tripping over something in the grass, and falling flat on my face in the most burlesque of fashions. 

“Woah, you okay?” Peter rushes to help me up, then tries to choke a giggle at how pissed off I look.

“I thought I had this superhuman sense of balance thing! Not so sure now!” I huff. “What was that anyway?” I wonder, staring at the grass. I reach down and grab what looks like a very thin, almost invisible... thread? It’s coming straight out of the dark, glittery soil, and slithering forward though the grass. I keep my back arched and decide to follow it.

“Watch out Lil’, there will be more!” I hear Peter caution. And sure enough, others seem to spring out of the ground and head in the same direction as the first. Dozens, then hundreds of threads, of different shapes and tones, all headed in the same direction: the origami. Soon enough, the grass subsides and we find ourselves walking on what feels like an unravelled, undulating carpet. My pace slows down as it starts to dawn on me. I abruptly stop and look up at the colourful shafts with renewed awe. 

“Oh my God... These aren’t light beams, are they? They’re... yarn?!”

“More like thread art. You have this in your world too, don’t you?” Peter explains.

“I guess, but not on such scale!... And it’s like the strings are... glowing!!! ...And they’re never the same pattern, are they?” I ramble in wonder. Taking a few steps closer, I can finally touch the first of the massive layers. “These look like they have 3D depth... No, wait! They’re slanting lines and those in the next layer are the same, but they lean in a different direction... An optical illusion! Ingenious!!!” I leap from one tier to the next in childish wonder. There are so many that it must be a right labyrinth in there. “Can we go in?” I beg expectantly.

“Of course! It’s Sam’s Space. We’re expected!”

Huh! I’m liking this Sam person more and more. He must have one hell of an imagination to come up with this. One would expect the colossal layers to be supported by solid columns on either side, but instead, the yarn doesn’t look attached to anything. It’s just tightly strung to... nothing, and the entire tier is actually paper-thin. Curious as to how this world looks from behind the threads, I take a step and stand on the other side of the first layer, facing the group. My three Elves look the same, olive-skinned, wide-eyed, and straight out of my adolescent dreams... except that they now seem bathed in a gentle, bluish glow, through the magical fibres. Even that horrible smoke behind them looks less threatening...

What happens next only takes two seconds. Just two seconds for me to frantically jump back, point at the grey fumes, and scream.

Through the intricate, glowing web, I could clearly distinguish, in the smoky distance, half a face, peering from behind a blackened, fallen boulder. I can’t see its expression or guess its reaction to us being there, but I can tell it’s female. Dark eyes, dark hair, and so close to the ground that I’m certain it’s kneeling. The peeping tom disappears a fraction of a second after I’ve seen her, which increases the creepiness. The group, however, doesn’t seem as affected. They turn around for a quick, casual check, then let Peter do the explaining.

“No… It’s Sam’s threads; they make you see things. That’s just a first example of why you shouldn’t trust your eyes around here!” he winks.

“But I know what I saw!” I insist, miffed. “There’s someone behind that boulder, and she was staring at us!”

“ ‘She’?... Either way Lil’, it’s not possible for any us to even cross the Space line into the ravaged areas. These places have been altered in their very matter and constitution. If we so much as set foot in them, we are scorched alive! Trust me, some have tried.”

 These places?! How many are there? I shiver as I throw another long look at the boulder. There was someone there! Or at least that’s what I saw… But what if Peter’s right? What if Sam’s Space is making me see things that aren’t really there? I admit that an optical illusion, compared to someone who’s really there in the foggy furnace, would be the lesser of two creepers… And when did I become so paranoid anyway? I only saw what I saw for a tiny second after all... I feel the trio observing me, and suddenly get self-conscious. Do I really want to come off as the nervous one of the group? I decide to cut the scary thoughts short.

“Um… Shouldn’t trust my eyes here. Got it.”

“It’s okay though,” he says kindly, “We’ve all had all sorts of visions around here. It took ages to get used to them.”

“Okay… Now please let’s go in. I’ve had enough of all the grayness…” I say in reference to both the place and our mood. 

At those words, Peter’s expression hardens. He gives me a sharp, determined nod, and walks into the yarn-made maze, as if equally eager to get away from this place.

“Come!” he absent-mindedly ushers, and the rest of us follow, willingly. 

Walking into the multilayered maze that is Sam’s Space very quickly changes the overall disposition. It is like taking a stroll through a never-ending art gallery where the walls are the canvas, and the work only reveals itself through motion and perspective. Three-dimensional rainbow-coloured lozenges, exploding strokes of fluorescent yarn against a pitch-black background, and even dizzying yet static gold and orange spirals…   

 As I marvel at the endless range of beautiful shapes a mere depth of yarn has to offer, I sometimes get a glimpse of an unexpected object, another optical illusion, just by taking a step forward. So far I’ve managed to see a sort of tree – which disappeared as soon as I shifted, and would not reveal itself again, no matter how insistently I tried to retrace my steps – and a breathtaking silhouette of what looks like the statues in Vlad’s Mausoleum, floating upwards as we pass by. 

But what stops me in my tracks is the most unexpected sight yet: As the other three advance in silence, clearly not as impressed as I am by all this, I catch a glimpse of Peter, through one very thin, see-through purple layer of thread. I recognize him from his shirt and glasses, which have not changed, but his face… There is something very different about his face! His eyes are wider, less innocent, and his complexion is considerably darker. His cheekbones are more deeply carved, and his lips protrude further than they already do. I could even swear he looks taller – more like the others, but with a bonus: his majestic composure and otherworldly features strike me as stemming from the divine.  

I stare at him, for that mentally slowed-down second, with eyes almost popping out, before the illusion disappears as swiftly as the ones before it…  And the realization hits me, in a why-oh-why-haven’t-I-thought-of-this-before moment. 

“You´ve changed yourself…” I mumble.

“What’s that?” He has no idea of what I’ve just witnessed.

“This is not the real you! You’ve changed the way you look, to blend in better… in my world!” I feel my intonation rising, while the three suddenly look somewhat strained.

Peter carefully raises one hand, as if calming down a nervous steed. 

“Yes… I’ve had to change. The ones before me tried disguising themselves for the Gardens, but it didn’t always work…”

“How?!... How did you do it?” I ask while tactlessly gawking at him, in an attempt to see the “real Peter” through his humanized traits.

“As I do everything else: I drew myself… this self.”


“Is it… permanent?” My tone goes back and forth from slight, confused disappointment, to contradictory relief. This is so weird!   

“Yes… I believe so,” he whispers, looking tense. 

What…?! Who is this man that I’ve fallen so heartbreakingly in love with? Is he the adorably self-conscious, green-eyed sketch artist I’ve always known? Or that dark, radical, quasi mythical figure I’ve come to be acquainted with here? 

Not to mention how utterly drastic and terrifying I find the idea of foregoing one’s own identity for the sake of… a mission! Or maybe, like Erik, he did it out of…love? This fascination with the Human kind seems to go much deeper than I’d imagined, and I don’t know whether to feel admiration or shock at his… his sacrifice

Except that he’s not the only one who’s forfeited himself, is he? That dark, enraged thought creeps back into my brain; the thought that Peter has deprived me of myself, the real me, without even giving me a choice. And besides, he’s only had to let go of his appearance. I’ve had to give up my nature.  

I swallow back the bile as he finally warns me, “Now could you please save these questions for later? I promise to answer every one of them, but for now, I’m not sure how much of this Sam’s heard, and I don’t want to take any more risks. No human references whatsoever, remember?”

I nod, slightly tempted to reveal the whole riddle to whoever might be listening, just to make him pay for what he’s done. But I know all too well that I never would. 

Peter stares at me for one more second, as if not sure whether or not I’m satisfied with his answers, then chooses to change the subject. “We’ve been walking for too long… This can’t be right.” He looks around, gradually narrowing his eyes, then suddenly looks up and shouts, “Sam! We know what you’re doing! She’s seen your work and given it the esteem it deserves; now could we please see you already?!” He exasperatedly rolls his eyes, and no more than a second later, in a low, rumbling noise, one of the walls shifts a few degrees to the right, and a new path is revealed to us through the labyrinth. “Thank you!” Peter huffs, not amused. 

 Wait, so… All of this was a peacock’s display, to impress ME?

I try to choke a smile. If that’s true, then it’s worked like a charm. Major points for Sam. 

            A few steps into the new alley reveal a multitude of opaque light orbs, like those you’d buy for your garden, laid here and there on the woolly ground, or just hanging in mid-air; and each bearing a detail that makes all the difference: they’re covered in warm-coloured lace motifs. Flowery patterns, geometrical shapes… all of red and gold and orange, shedding some sort of mystical mosaic of beams and silhouettes against the surrounding thread shafts. Notes from a sitar fill my imagination, and like a moth, I feel compelled to follow the light. 

The orbs draw a defined route that suddenly opens up to a vast hall-like space that I greet with a gasp: Forget about a few spheres; there are hundreds of them! I’m blinded by so much vivid gleaming, and feel I’m stepping into a very starry outer space.  It automatically reminds me of a life-size piece I’d seen at one of Oda’s exhibitions, by a Japanese artist, about infinity and the brilliance of life… The daze is such that I have to focus really hard to distinguish what’s waiting for us in that hall. The first thing I see is a flurry of pale blue silk-like material, a few inches away on the ground, spreading onwards. I follow it with screwed up eyes, and notice it going up at one point. It’s only then that I finally make out a silhouette. 

My deep frown loosens abruptly, and my lips pop open but no sound comes out.

Sam’s absolutely gorgeous. Enormous, inquisitive jade green eyes; glossy, platinum blond hair, and a scarily sylphlike, muscular frame.

Except this frame is clad in a pale blue silk dress, and Sam is, for all intents and purposes, very much female.


I know my part consists mainly in staring and looking absolutely clueless, while trying to avoid any speech, comparisons or even gestures that might look remotely earthly. I might as well just quietly gape in wonder, which isn’t so hard to do here, especially in the presence of this goddess. She seems to have sunrays for hair and jade stones for eyes. My goodness, those eyes… 

Of all the stunning things I can now distinguish in this hall, her gaze is the most difficult one to handle. It’s like she has eyes only for Peter and me. Her stare would go from me to him, in slow, paced motion, and would just linger there. Isn’t gawking considered impolite in this world? I most definitely don’t want her to win at this game, so I align my eyes with hers, and shamelessly take in every detail of her ravishing anatomy. On Earth, she would have no hope of passing off as human, not even for a second. 

She speaks one short word in their language – or at least I think it’s one; it sounds something like “Elu’thinri”, with a very slightly rolled R – before Peter interrupts her.

“English, Symarin! That’s the only language I gave her.”

For a second I wonder what Symarin means, before feeling stupid: It’s her name. And ‘Sam’ ’s just short for it. The statuesque Elf ponders for a long minute, then says, “Very well. Welcome.”

Peter gracefully thanks her, then launches into the elaborate scenario he’d come up with, about my being born yesterday, so to speak. He improvises a few details about how I opened my eyes and panicked, and how he’d managed to calm me down. Vlad looks nervous, not so much because of Sam, but rather because of Peter’s inspired digressions and spontaneous detail-weaving.  Either way, little does Sam seem to care what is going on with Vlad, or even less with Nirav. Her fixation leads her alternatively and exclusively from my person, to Peter’s. 

As soon as he’s done with his speech, he gives her his irresistible “Will you help us?” look, while I feel like I’m the only one choking on all the heavy tension in the room. She observes me one last time, before turning to Peter and blurting out, simply: 

“She’s a Human, isn’t she?”


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