“I don’t know why people think I am inept at schemes and plans. I assure you that I am among the most brilliant of tacticians, my stunning intellect rivaled only by…umm…no…the name will come to me. If I could just stop spinning. Yes, there is it, or, hmm, perhaps not. What was I saying? Oh right. No one…yes, no one rivals me. I always have my enemies right where they want me and can catch myself at unawares at the exact moment of my choosing.”– Xindir Harshek Doxle of the First Flame, blind drunk, hanging suspended from a noose around one foot, covered in tar and cotton candy, with various profanities strategically painted across his naked body, approximately thirty seconds from single handedly the defeating the garrison at Breaktide.
Fighting. I’d been doing so much of it that as I watched Idrina vanish from my room I had to wonder if that was what we’d been doing?
Had I won? She was gone, but that didn’t feel like a win. If it wasn’t a win though what was the alternative?
Was I supposed to run after her and drag her back to my room?
That couldn’t be the right thing to do, despite how tempting it was.
Maybe I was supposed to check in with the others? With Ilyan? Of all of us, he’d be the one most likely to understand what was going on.
“Hi, why did your sister run away from me? She doesn’t hate me does she?” I was going to say literally none of that to him, ever. The questions were stupid, I didn’t need the answers, and they weren’t important.
What mattered was that someone at House Ironbriar had mad their move, and they’d been nice and predictable about it.
I knew I should go downstairs and talk with the others about it. I’d somehow wound up as the ‘leader’, and they might want to talk about continuing with our plans. I could provide my input and make sure that people like Narla and Ilyan got to make contributions that would be taken seriously.
Instead I collapsed onto my bed.
I wasn’t going to sleep. There was no worry of that happening since I was far too wound up. Sagging into the mattress though? That sounded like it was exactly my speed.
A flood of problems stormed into my mind as I lay there, each one demanding that I get up and deal with them.
The charges needed an answer, an official one in fact, since we were going to play this as one House against another, where Ironbriar clearly wanted to consider this an individual matter so they could prosecute me in their courts and inflict whatever punishment they deemed fit.
Also, the Clockworking process was something that we needed to understand more fully in order to be sure that when we shut it down, it would stay shut down.
That was going to mean another trip to the Clockwork Cosmos. Or, more likely, several trips. Those were probably going to be my job as well, since I was demonstrably able to survive there.
Grammy was out there as well. No relation to the Clockwork Cosmos. Or at least none that I knew of? Then again I hadn’t known that she’d apparently erased an entire Great House on her own, so there were clearly some things I did not know about the woman who’d raised me and was largely responsible for everything human that was in me.
The woman I was going to need to tell, after more than a decade, that I wasn’t who I’d been claiming to be, and that her granddaughter was long dead.
Why had I ever thought impersonating Trina was a good idea?
Had it ever really been for her?
That was what I had told myself over the years. That I’d pretended to be my sister because it would spare Grammy the pain of the loss that I’d felt. There was more to it than that though. By taking Trina’s place, I’d gotten a family and someone to care for me and watch over me and teach me the things I needed to know.
I could have stayed as a little wolf pup. That wasn’t my true form any more than Trina’s was, but it had grown comfortable after I’d worn it for a few years with her. Grammy wouldn’t have set me adrift on my own even as a pup. I would have been fed and cared for. I might have been allowed to stay in the house. Grammy might even have turned to me for support – puppies can be very cuddly, and I could have stayed like that for as long as Grammy needed me, or would put up with me.
I didn’t have to lie to her. Not for either one of us.
I couldn’t take back that I had though and with how far out my secret had gotten, I had to tell her the truth. She was going to hear about it and it had to come from me.
So I could get out of bed and do that.
And if I was going to get out of bed, I could run after Idrina.
If she needed to fight me, we could fight. If she needed to leave, I could free her from whatever shackles of obligation she felt kept her chained to the house. Or to me. I knew nothing I did would put a smile on her face. She was too practiced at controlling her emotions for that. It wasn’t her lips that I needed to see happy though, it was her heart.
No, I wasn’t about to ask myself ‘why her’? Yes, I knew there were a lot of people, even several in the house, who weren’t smiling for one reason or another. So why didn’t I want to go help them? I mean I did, but why did helping Idrina seem so important? Because she’d just been here? Because for as desperately as she worked to be the perfect daughter of her house, she was the biggest misfit of us all? Because I was…?
I might have completed that though. Or I might not have finished any of them. I couldn’t really tell because while I was completely incapable of finding sleep, sleep had no problems finding me.
From the thoughts that were spiralling around in my head it would have been reasonable to expect that my dreams would have been some mishmash of Idrina and my grandmother chasing me down for murdering random Ironbriars. Or the Clockwork Cosmos putting me on trial for the crimes I haven’t had a chance to commit against House Ironbriar. Basically a melange of all my worries whirled together and amplified by anxiety and the weird brain chemistry of sleep.
As it turned out though, my dreams weren’t of anything that I’d fallen asleep thinking about.
Instead I dreamed of darkness.
It wasn’t the darkness of night, or of sightlessness though. It was the rich, weighty darkness of the depths.
I’d swum from this darkness. It was familiar and I knew I’d risen up from it.
What can rise can fall again though.
Except, I couldn’t remember falling.
I clung to the memories of my life in the waking world as though they had the power to buoy me up the surface of the unfathomably vast ocean which surrounded me.
I wasn’t meant for the surface of course. Playing on the ocean’s edge was only supposed to be an occasional thing. What had I become that I spent so long there?
Ten years? Had I breathed air for ten years? My dream rejected that. I couldn’t have walked on the surface of a world for ten years? No one could be apart from flow for that long? No one could hold onto anything across all those days upon days.
The surface wasn’t where I belonged. I was meant to be down in the flow, where my body could melt away and the entire ocean would support me, rather than having to stand on my own, rigid feet, constantly fighting against the gravity of my life.
Except the ocean wasn’t supporting me. It was drawing me ever lower, towards something which loomed beyond the borders of the world through presence alone.
I’d sunk and been wrapped up in bathypelagic gloom. I was beyond the cares of the surface and deeper than the reach of the brightest light, and in my dream that felt like coming home.
Because I wasn’t alone.
I’d felt the great alien powers which flowed around me before, but this time they weren’t so alien or threatening.
With currents as broad as a continent, they swept away the lies of form I’d been clinging to. My body, my identity, my name? I didn’t need those. They weren’t me. They were limits I’d accepted on what should have been an endlessly flowing spirit.
The storm of thoughts which had assailed me?
I could be free of all that.
I could let it all blow away somewhere far above, up on the surface which was so far away. Up in the light I could no longer see.
In the falling currents of the bathypelagic, I could feel my dream washing away the reality of what I’d been and what I was. Though they were so much bigger than I, so much more than I could comprehend, I felt the unseen ones calling me back to the endless, changing flow that was my true birthright.
They did not love me. They did not know me at all. But still they offered to make me whole once more. To forgive my wayward wanderings and welcome me back to the boundless seas where I would never have to endure anything again. Where I could simply be, and be anything I wished.
I don’t think they expected me to refuse them.
I don’t know that I expected to refuse them.
What they offered was endless peace. Freedom from everything and the power to be anything I wished. Ten years hadn’t been enough to make me forget what that felt like, and I would spend a lifetime or more before part of me stopped yearning for it.
But a lifetime is what I’d earned for myself.
In the ocean, I could exist, but I wouldn’t be myself. I would be whatever nebulous, formless thing the forces around me inclined me to be. If I was pushed downwards, I would flow downwards. If I those around me wanted me to be smaller, I would shrink.
And that wasn’t me.
No light illuminates the depths. No light but that which those sunk down bring with them.
I did not fight the unseen ones.
I did not rebuff them.
I did not hurl defiance at the fate they offered me.
They were not my enemy. They did not mean me harm.
They were powerful and vast and inimical to what I had become, what I chose to be, but they were not something I needed to fight.
They were a part of one of my worlds, and a part of me, but only a part. I could touch their world, as they could touch me, but we would never be joined together into one thing, not again.
Stretching out my hand – because I had a hand again – I touched them, showing things so vast as to burst beyond the definitions of any words I could hold them with, that I was not as they remembered me. That I was not what I’d known myself to be.
My birthright remained as mine. I hadn’t lost what I was. I was still a part of their world.
But I was also part of another.
My nameless changing self, child and innocent that it had been, had changed beyond the boundaries of a boundless changing people. My human self? Well that was still a work in progress, as all human selves are, but I was proud of what I’d built and that pride lit the seas around me, shining like a star to guide me home.
And it was good to have a guide to follow back.
Shining a light right above the Abyssopelagic is a wonderful method of attracting an intriguing class of predators from beyond the limits of reason and sanity.
As my dream faded, I forgot those predators, dreams being wonderful at denying things like that entry into the waking world, but I recalled the conversation I’d had with the unseen ones.
They hadn’t abandoned me and that set some interesting gears turning in my brain.