I know the story takes some time to get rolling; this is where the shit starts to really hit the fan.
Behind? Check out chapter one of The One That Feels. Confused? Want to know more about one of the characters? Let me know in the comments! (Don't forget to click on the "Read More" link to read the whole chapter)
Janice clutched my hand tightly and I heard her begin to form words several times, but each time she thought better of it and simply followed me through the dull gray existence that made up the realm in this place.
When we finally walked into Jordan’s room, I heard a little gasp from her as she pulled her hand away from mine, but I did not let her go. I pulled her into the room and then I closed the door and upon its surface I drew wards of power. And only then did I allow her to slip her hand away.
The only light within came from the radiance of her skin, that infusion of life and power that I had made to sustain and protect her in this place, for few in the world of the living have such a love of life, not now, not in the modern age. But in that glow she saw something very different than the mortal world, for Jordan lay on a great bed of pillows, silk, and over him there was no roof, but only the shade of an immense tree whose branches rose above the room in a great canopy. And the walls, the walls were stone and etched, so carefully etched with runes like those I had scribed upon the door.
Janice shook. “He looks like his father,” she squeaked.
I nodded. I had suspected as much, few who were truly mortal would have such an aspect in the realm. “But… why? Does everyplace look like this?”
I shook my head, “No, not everyplace. But more places than you might think. Some better than others. This is a place of death, and it is not safe. Brian has tried hard never to let him inside a hospital, nor any other place that reeks of death quite as much. Not since the last time. And he has usually been successful. But this time, I’m afraid,” I sighed, “this time your son was trying.”
“But… Brian. He’s here.”
“No. He’s everywhere.”
She looked puzzled. “But he’s right there!”
“Does he hear you?”
She went up to him and pushed him. He rocked slightly and his attention left Jordan for a moment. “Thommas?” he whispered in a tone so soft it seemed he might not have said it at all.
“He thinks I’m you?”
“He knows something here is acting upon him. Like you and your mystery man, he could not be with me and not know that there was something different. But he cannot see us.”
“I don’t understand,” said Janice, folding her arms across her chest.
I smiled, just slightly. “You’re not expected to. This is what your son sees. But not quite how he sees it. For him this world is overlaid upon everything else. Like he is seeing two contrary places at once. They are not all as similar as this. He might see a ruined tower on a parking lot, or a field of roses in a conference room. And he sees the creatures of the realm, and they see him. But he cannot interact with any of it, not even those pieces that might touch him.”
“What about him?” She glared balefully at Brian.
“He is the same, in every place, in every time, in every dimension. As an anchor, while he is near your son, Jordan’s visions subside. Brian is grounded in what you would think of as the real world. So truly grounded that nothing from outside it can touch him unless it enters our world fully.”
“That’s why he looks the same. But if that’s true, how could I push him?”
I laughed with sudden levity. “You are not from outside the real, you just aren’t there right now.”
“That’s why Jordan went after him,” she said, mumbling the words. “Why my boy latched onto him….”
I walked up to the bed. “You must understand, Janice, how maddening it must be to see this place but be unable to touch or influence it. And yet for it to be able to touch and see you with ease. He is in constant threat for what he is, and yet he cannot even defend himself. These visions of the realm, they are a curse. He latched onto drugs because they alter him, let him enter the world, touch it. He latched onto Brian because, as an anchor, Brian can bring him back to reality when it gets too weird.” I sighed and stared down for a time at the boy. A child of Om. I had always suspected, but now I knew.
I turned back to Janice. “He wants both worlds,” I said. “But he wants them one at a time, and he found a way to do it. A foolhardy dangerous way that is not safe, will never be safe, because it is not under his control. He enters the realm sometimes too fully, and it is hard for even Brian to bring him back. But to see both worlds together, as he must do every day when he’s away from Brian for such a little thing as going to work or going out to lunch, must be maddening for him.”
“What happened to my boy then?” asked Janice, her arms still crossed as she stepped up to the bed. “You said he did this on purpose.”
“Yes, I’m very much afraid that he did.”
“Your son loves Brian,” I said, and no mask could hide the pain in my words, “and not just for the grounding he provides. Their love for each other is genuine.” The words tasted bitter. “But because Brian is an anchor, your son cannot see it, cannot see Brian’s love for him in this world, where such emotion cannot be easily hidden.”
Janice looked confused.
“People here in the realm love life, and they feel emotion, powerful, but fleeting. Never for long.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“I think your son saw this,” I said, and I let the shields that guarded my love for Brian in this place fall. Between us there was a sudden cascade of light and our features blurred into each other, as though we were two halves of a whole. And in the matrix of light from that cascade could be seen, if one looked for more than a moment, a treasure trove of the individual moments in which we loved each other, from a hug, to setting down a cup of coffee, to the throes of sex. And in Brian’s eyes, those piercing blue eyes, a life flared that suddenly made him more in this place, where he should just be, could only just be. And then it was gone, and my love for Brian again walled deep within me.
“Love is the only thing that makes Brian more than he is in this place. It’s the only time the power of the realm touches him visibly. Brian can never let Jordan see it, because he has to be an anchor for your son, because that is what Jordan needs. But Jordan saw Brian look at this,” I said, and I pulled out the locket I had taken from Jordan’s mind, “and he saw the azure fire burning in Brian’s eyes, and he realized that Brian never stopped loving me.”
I sighed as I slid the locket back in my pocket. “Your son is young, and he has only truly loved this once. He does not understand that love when truly felt does not just go away. He saw that power, and knew too well that he never sees it when he looks in Brian’s eyes, because he must not see it.” I shook my head, “It is too easy for such intensity to become a gateway to the realm, and Brian cannot follow him, not here, not if he actually enters the realm.”
“Brian loves Jordan. I have never doubted that,” Janice said, setting a hand on his shoulder. “Surely Jordan knows it.”
“He does,” I said, trying to keep the regret out of my voice for that bitterness here had a certain power of its own, “but he is young and insecure, and he has never had cause to doubt. And that doubt, it shook him, I think, to the point that he fled someplace in this world, using the only means he knew to get here. And in his haste, your usually scrupulously careful son took too much. Instead of entering this place as a physical being, he sent his mind from his body, and it is dwelling somewhere as robust and real as a living thing, while his body dies without it.”
“Why didn’t Brian look for him?” asked Janice, turning furious eyes toward Brian.
“Brian cannot see him in this place. Brian sees him only ever as he is in the real world. This is not the first scare. I have found your son for Brian before,” I said leaning over the bed, “when they fought and Jordan sought solace in this world that gives him comfort, and in the other comforts that the drugs provide.”
“Then he knew that my son had fled here?”
“No,” I said, “but he suspected. Or perhaps simply hoped. Your son’s prognosis is not good, Janice.” I glared at my rival. “He should be dead. Just from the overdose. And there’s some sign that may have been his intent. He has never been this careless before.”
Janice paled, “No, he wouldn’t have done that!” she insisted.
I let that pass, she didn’t want to believe it or wasn’t ready to. “This realm is very big,” I said. “His mind could be anywhere in this realm, or in any one of dozens of others close to it. This one is natural for him, it fits him because of his father. But there are other places, worse than this. And right now, not anchored to his body, or even to a single realm, he could easily become more lost than he is.”
Her eyes widened, but she grew determined. “You said the ties were tenuous. Can you follow him?”
“Perhaps. There is a piece of him left, a fragment trapped within his body. The tie to the construct his mind has built and sent into this world makes a trail, but it is old, faded—difficult to follow. I might travel to a place from which I cannot return, even if I find him.”
“You have found him before, and returned.”
“No, Janice. I used this, that your son had created.” I held out the locket. “I knew it could work as a path back. I could only do it because I knew that he”—I gestured over to Brian—“would be wearing the real one.”
“Can you find him?”
“I can try,” I said softly. “There are no guarantees.”
“How do I know that you’ll try?” She looked between Brian and I several times. “You love Brian, don’t think I need the light show to tell that. Why would you give him up?”
“I lost Brian a long time ago, Janice. I lost him when your son found him. I have never understood why, but I have accepted it.” I gulped. It was a painful admission. “I’ll never get him back.”
“You might, if my son dies.”
“That is a false hope. True love never dies,” I said, and I had no doubt she could see that love in my eyes as I looked at Brian, “but Brian would be bereft and grieve. And he would, perhaps rightly, blame me for your son’s loss. I would become hated and loved at the same time, and love breeds the worst kind of hatred in those situations.”
“Then you’ll find him?” she asked.
“I will try.”
Janice looked at me very seriously then. “What does Brian think of this? You said he couldn’t see it. That he anchored everything. Yet he clearly knows something about your connection to this place. He sought you out. I can’t think you would normally be his first choice to solve a problem.”
“He knows I’ve found Brian before. After the last time, we had a talk. It had become too much to explain away.”
“Then he didn’t know before about this place?”
“Janice, I live in the real world. I have to function there. This world can be very like a drug. And so, like a drug, it can be horrifically addictive. I had long given it up when I met Brian. And though I knew what he was, for me that was only a comfort against a relapse. For with him close, it would be hard to get here.”
“But you don’t need drugs to get here as my son does.”
I laughed. “I am permitted some secrets of my own.”
“Not when my son’s life is at stake!” She scowled at me. “How important can your secrets be?”
“Important enough,” I said. “Brian does not know them. And if he could not get them out of me, then you have little chance.”
Her gaze strayed from me to Brian, her scowl deeper. “You’re right. But I don’t have to like it.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to. And I don’t begrudge you the question, I would no doubt ask it myself were I in your position.”
“You said if I saw it I would understand. Yet, this, it doesn’t seem so awful.”
“Doesn’t it?” I said.
I glanced at the door and snapped my fingers. The rune I had drawn upon the doors slowly faded and the glow of Mrs. Blackmun’s skin grew dim. The room shook as something beyond pounded upon the door, shaking leaves from the great canopy over the bed. The lights faded as another great strike against the door shook the room so soundly that Janice stumbled, catching herself upon the bed. Then the great stone door crumbled and beyond it stood several somethings, each more hideous and nightmarish than the last. I stepped back, and they started toward her, pulling their great hideous forms through the doors with giant misshapen arms. She screamed and backed away and into Brian. Suddenly they hesitated. They glared at my former lover and howled, then they turned and saw me.
Again they screamed, and they started to withdraw, all of them save one, this one fair as Jordan was. He stepped through the door and glanced at Janice, and at Jordan. And he looked at Brian, but he was not immediately afraid at the sight as the nightmare creatures had been. He glanced at me and bowed from the waist. A slight bow, not a full one, but I returned the gesture in kind.
“You have invaded my fiefdom, and without my due. You know the penalty.” He spoke the words simply, as if they were the most normal things in the world.
“I deny you,” I said quietly. “And this woman holds no fealty to any lord or lady of the realm, for she is of the real, nor will I permit you to bind her, for she has done nothing worthy of a hundred year task.”
“You deny me?” He spat the words at me, “You? Such a pitiful thing, you dare?”
“Do not test me,” I said, my back suddenly arrow straight. “I am no idle visitor to the realm.”
“And yet you would blithely stride into the fiefdom of Zaharoth and pay no tribute, no respect to the son and heir of the king!” He stepped forward, his hands on a sword at his hip. “I suggest”—he spat at the floor in front of me—“that you arm yourself, or name thy champion!”
I looked quietly at him. “You would fight me yourself? Do you wish the sleep of millennia upon yourself so badly?”
Janice looked confused.
He stepped forward. “Name your champion!”
“I name Janice Blackmun, of the real.”
She looked at me, incredulous.
“You said it didn’t seem so bad,” I said with a shrug.
He drew his sword and leveled it at her.
He pointed the long narrow blade of his weapon at her throat, “And she’s going to defend herself how?”
“Oh, she needn’t do it herself,” I said with a chuckle. “She is the chosen mate of Yarath of Om. I have no doubt he’ll send one of his finest to do the deed.”
The prince of Zaharoth backed away.
“Proof, foul creature, or I shall name thee for thy falsehood!”
I glanced at the bed, “The child is hers,” I said gesturing toward the bed. “That is proof enough.”
He sheathed his sword and passed her dismissively, stepping up to Jordan. He looked at her. “This child of the blood of this realm, he is yours?” He made it more an accusation than a question.
“Jordan is my son,” she said, her voice suddenly strong, “and you should step away from him. Now.”
“Or you will what?”
Brian stood then, and a look of recognition passed through the man’s eyes. He spun to face me. “You bring an anchor into Zaharoth? You dare?”
“The anchor comes of its own accord, and summons to it those it needs. This one is anchored in the real and sees nothing. It needs us. It does not need you. That puts you in an awkward position. You would not long survive being dragged into the real.”
His eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”
“I am the One That Feels.”
He paled. “If that is so then I am out of my depth. But beware, if you are indeed he, for I am not the only foe you will find in Zaharoth.” He turned to Janice. “I dare not accept the challenge of one who bears the favor of Om. But you should know, the son whose body we see here, his mind has fled and will not return. If his return is your goal, you should know your task cannot succeed.”
He spun then and walked out the door, sending the door to mend itself with a slight twist of his fingers. When he had gone, I walked up to the door and drew again upon it the rune of sealing that had protected it. Then I returned to the side of the bed.
“I do not understand this place,” Janice said simply, wiping at tears as they formed in the corners of her eyes.
“That is no surprise,” I said. “None from our world were ever meant to.”
“I cannot survive here.”
“You must. Once you’ve entered this world, you can never fully leave it. You know too much, and this world leaks into the real, as the real leaks into it. Now you will see it, feel it. It becomes a part of you.”
“Take me back to my son,” she said. “I wish to look upon his face and not see the man who cursed him.”
“Do not so blithely dismiss the boy’s father, Janice. His name, here, is a blessing. It is only that it dragged your son into the realm that makes it a curse.”