So today we have Chapter 7. When I first started writing this story, I didn't know it was going to be fantasy. I had imagined some tangled web of emotional struggle between Brian and Thommas and Jordan. When Thommas stepped into Jordan's mind in Chapter 4, I thought for sure, that was the story, Thommas searching Jordan's mind.
Then Janice demanded something, and I learned of Om, and of the Realm and the story took a rather different turn than I expected. But still, I thought this was Brian's story as well as that of Thommas.
I was wrong. Soon I would learn the story belonged to the Prince of Zaharoth.
Feeling lost? Need to start at the beginning? Check The One That Feels out from Chapter 1!
By the time we returned to the hospital room, Mrs. Blackmun had grown more than a little pale. There was no easy route through the realm of Zaharoth back to the real, and she had come to understand how dangerous a little knowledge could be, and also how much she appreciated the real.
Her husband grunted when we returned, but Brian looked at her face for a few moments, examining the shock that was plainly written there. “You showed her, then,” he said.
I met his gaze. “I had little choice.”
Brian sighed and nodded, then glanced back at the half-dead sleeping form of his lover. His voice was pained and soft, and it came out as though he had to push to get the words out. “He isn’t any better,” he choked out.
“I didn’t expect he would be,” I said, setting a hand on Brian’s shoulder, “but there was always the hope he might find his way back to you on his own.”
“I’ll find him, Bri, if I can.”
“I know,” he said, his eyes closing. “Thank you.”
“Just love him, Bri. That is what he needs most right now.”
“How will you find him?” asked Brian, his lips still half against Jordan’s hand.
“I will need to return to the Realm where his mind has fled. It would be easier if I knew where he might go. I will need to search in a place where I am not welcome. It could days—weeks. His mind frays at the edges. I cannot be sure he’ll last.”
“He’s right here, damn you!” shouted Mr. Blackmun.
“No. His body is here,” I said, my gaze fixed on the fragile young man on the bed. “His mind is somewhere else entirely, in a body spun of raw thought, in a place that must be felt to be seen, and unless I find it, and find it soon, he may flee from his body entirely.” I turned to look at Mr. Blackmun. “If that happens his body will die.”
“You make no sense, you…” Mr. Blackmun turned and made a tight fist. “Janice, do you seriously trust this freak?”
“Look at our son!” she said. “You saw him before. Does he look better or worse?”
“No,” said Janice, a single word, curt and determined. “He’s doing better. However unorthodox Mr. Ashforthe’s methods might be, he seems to know what he’s doing. I suggest you let him keep doing it.”
“Can you find him?” asked Brian, ignoring the parents’ exchange.
“Don’t give up on him, Bri,” I said. “I’m going to try, but this is very difficult. I wish I could explain how difficult.”
“You did to her,” muttered Brian under his breath.
I crouched down to look at him, tipping up his chin so I could see the blue of his eyes. “My Bri, I wish I could show you that. I know it’s hard, and I’m sorry. I’m here, and I will try. But you’re going to have to trust me. The very thing that helps you relate to Jordan prevents you from ever really seeing or understanding why or how he’s hurting.”
Brian closed his eyes and nodded. “Just find him. I don’t have to understand it, just as long as you find him.”
“It would be better if you could understand. This is dangerous. If I cannot bring him back, if things go badly, I could be stuck in the Realm myself.”
“Then don’t let them go badly.”
“This isn’t a game, Bri.”
“I know,” said Brian softly. “I do trust you. You know that.”
“I will need to leave. To go the Realm where he goes when he gets high. Consult with Janice if the need arises. I need you to listen to her, Bri. She understands more than you think.”
He sighed. “Okay.”
I stood and turned to Mrs. Blackmun. “Janice. He gave you a key. You know who I mean. You’ve held it, no doubt. If I do not return, or if he worsen—use it. You will find me in the land of Om.”
Brian and Mr. Blackmun looked at me very oddly, but Janice nodded. “Is it far?” she asked.
“Everything is far and everything is near. Much depends on the route taken and the payments demanded.”
“That made no sense,” said Janice quietly.
I chuckled and smiled, just slightly. I had known the Realm so well once. “I have the means to travel with speed in search of your son, and I will, but there are few shortcuts I can take without sacrifices that would make the going pointless. It is no good to get there if I can’t return your son.” I hesitated, glancing to Brian quickly. “I do not think he will return on his own.”
“He does not…” Her eyes skipped to her husband and then to Jordan, his eyes still closed, his chest rising and falling erratically. “He does—”
He does not know. Did she really believe that? “Let me go. I will save Jordan if I can.”
Brian glared at me. “I wish you could explain it. I know you’re doing what’s best, and I do trust you, but I’m scared and I feel like you’re leaving.”
“Stay next to him, Brian,” I said. “Hold his hand and never stop telling him that you love him. Make sure you mean it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He doubts. He must not doubt, Bri.” I spun to face Janice and pulled the locket from my pocket. “If you have to use the key and find me in the Realm, this may help.” She clutched it tightly.
I looked at Brian one more time. I knew it might very be the last. Too many sacrifices in the Realm would call for me to stay there. I wanted to kiss him, wanted it desperately, but with Jordan so fragile, I did not dare to set up that particular matrix of emotion, not here, not when we needed him to come back, especially in light of what I’d seen in the prison of his mind. I opened my mouth to speak, but I knew I could not say the words.
He looked at me, the warmth and fire and passion in his eyes written there for me to see. “I know,” he said. “Me too.”
I said nothing more. Instead I turned and left, replacing the ward upon the door with a gesture as I passed the threshold. I stood for some time right outside the door. Was I really doing this? Going into the Realm? Risking my life in the Real for him? Of course I was. This was about making him happy. And as much as I hurt, still… I wanted my Brian, my love… I wanted him happy.
I glanced back through the glass of the door. Inside Mr. Blackmun was already grumbling at his wife, but that was not what had my attention. Brian was sitting, holding Jordan’s hand and whispering into the fingers at his lips.
I did not need to hear to know what words it was that Brian whispered into those fingers. Once he’d whispered those words into my skin. Once I’d felt the fire that was his breath and love and ecstasy. Once I’d dared to hope he’d never whisper those words to anyone but me. Once I’d been so deeply in love with Brian that I’d blithely believed my love for him would be enough.
I pulled my eyes from the scene and let my eyes fill with blackness, with the glittering points of light of the cosmos. I loved Brian. For him I would brave the Realm of my exile. Winds shifted and blew within the corridors of the hospital and when the voices cried out in the wind, I answered. I answered with power and I walked, my head held high, into the dismal existence that the hospital was in the Realm.
The sad creatures that inhabited the shifted landscape did not speak to me. That was not their place, and they knew it. They glared, their gaze like a knife upon the skin, but they said nothing. Instead they waited. There was no room warded for protection now. No anchor to the Real to keep the beasts of Zaharoth from their quarry. And so when the beasts of nightmare came for me I stood against them and wove my heartache into a blade forged of pain and torment.
The young son of the king stood and watched me as I fought them, my blade blocking swipes of claw and tooth. I stood, immobile as a pillar of stone, my heartache beating back the combined assault of the beasts until they lay in piles of gruesome torn flesh before me. Their ichor dripped from my blade as the young man clapped his hands slowly together. I turned and looked at him, calmly stabbing my sword down into a reptilian head of midnight shadow that sought to use the opening as a final chance to strike, skewering it into the tiled floor.
“The better part of wisdom might have been to declare yourself the champion, and fight me when I issued forth my challenge,” said the prince quietly.
“Being victorious does not always mean winning,” I said, my own voice just as soft. “You yielded, and that served my purposes at the time.”
“And yet you are here, again,” he said, gesturing around him, “knowing what it means to enter the Realm.”
“Still you would challenge me, as your creatures did?” I asked, looking pointedly at the remains of the beasts.
“Zaharoth is a dangerous place,” declared the prince. “And I am due tribute.”
I stepped up to him, holding myself tall. “And what would you ask in tribute to let me pass freely.”
“You intend to seek him, the boy child of Om?” he asked, looking at me with an eyebrow arched.
“You cannot succeed.” A truth, as he saw it.
“And yet I must try,” I said plainly.
His eyes narrowed. “We saw what you showed the chosen mate of Om. The Realm echoed with it. The pixies in their groves still weep from the strength of it. You would search the Realm for your lover’s mate when you are—”
“He chose someone else.” My voice cracked as I spoke. “Denying him will not bring that love back to me. It will bring only anger and hate. I could not bear that.”
“How can you know that?” asked the man, his horns dipping to the ground. “How do you see what will be if you fail?”
“I am the One That Feels.”
The man shook his head. “There is no wisdom in feeling.”
I smiled. “And yet in feeling comes the greatest strength.”
The man studied me for a moment, his eyes raking over my body with a scrutiny that bordered on violence. Finally he spoke. “I will accompany you on your search.”
“This is the price of your passage!” snapped the prince. “As king I will have need to understand this feeling that we do not indulge in Zaharoth. I will need to understand this strength you speak of. I do not ask this. It is my demand.”
I stared at him, unblinking and defiant. “I do not travel with nameless scions of the realm.”
“You would demand my name?” asked the man, clearly taken aback.
“Would you rather I challenge and demand the sleep of the millenia?” I twisted my sword and pushed it deeper into the tile.
The man considered for moment. “And are you to remain only ‘the One That Feels’?” asked the man.
“I am Thommas of Ashe,” I said firmly, extending my hand. “I do not travel with lords or princes at their demand. But I might yield the challenge, for a friend.”
“Thommas of Ashe,” the man looked puzzled at my face, his ageless youth wrinkling as he peered at me. “I am Nem.” Hesitantly he reached across the scant distance and took hold of my hand, clasping it in the fashion of the Realm, our wrists wrapping each around the forearm of the other rather than shaking as we would in the Real.
I smiled at him. “Come,” I said, clapping my hand against his shoulder. “Let us leave this place, before all we can feel is sadness.”
Nem nodded. “It is never wise to stay too long in a place of death,” he said in agreement, glancing at my blade. “Will you not take it?”
I glanced at the length of sharp heartache and shook my head. “It will return to my heart soon enough,” I said quietly, “and should we encounter trouble before then, I have enough hurt for a thousand such blades.”
“What if someone were to take it?”
“To touch it is to feel,” I answered, turning away from the gruesome remains. “I do not think the creatures of the realm are ready for such torment.”
“There are nightmares who—”
“Would feel love, for a moment, and so be unwoven,” I said. “Come.” I clapped him again on the back. “We have many realms to search and many lands to cross.”
Nem grumbled quietly, but followed.