Tiyhak felt the blast of heat against his skin. He felt like slapping the bird, and probably would have if it didn’t fly out of reach as he appeared. The burning wet of steam stung his eyes and he rubbed at them wildly, biting back a scream. The pain did not go away as he bent over in frustration, knocking his head again the pipe which had just blasted his in the face. The clank of metal again skull was soon swallowed up by a brief but forceful cry of pain.
“If you want me that bad, just say so. You don’t have to skulk in the corner watching me like a pervert.” Through the murky cloud of tears he saw a vaguely human form.
“If you are so eager,” he grunted, padding his eye with the sleeve of his cloak, “You have chosen your profession poorly.” Finally her form became clear, his eyes rubbed dry. Stupid bird. It may fit well behind metal pipes, but I do not. Upon hearing the cavalry arrive at the Great Library, he followed the strand of his spirit informer to Kyra. Apparently it hadn’t thought to find a hiding spot that made equal sense for a small bird and a larger man by comparison.
“Are you any better at your job? I slid in here, doing my job. What of yours? Could you find my spirit in that dark room of yours? Perhaps you should bring a torch next time.”
“For your information, I have completed my assigned task.”
“And your first thought was to play with hot pipes? Let’s go then, and try not to yell again. There are Pharosh about, and I don’t imagine they think your voice any more welcome than mine.” There wasn’t much to fear from being heard. Giant metal basins roared with action as the water in one battled with the next for the most profitable boil. Pistons worked at each other, pressurized steam pouring from every joint. Mammoth gears shifted and clanks as contraptions of every size and variety roared to life in the steam pit. A handfull of workers walked the grounds, but none of them paid any mind, seemingly there for show. The Pharosh no more saw them than they could hear them, or anything, over the noise of the place.
Step by step they progressed, Tiyhak in the lead. Kyra’s roguish qualities made her the better candidate for their stealthy intentions but Tiyhak knew where they were headed. He also didn’t want Kyra making some carnal suggestion about him watching her back. There were plenty of places for man and Tallri alike to hide in the industrious cacophony, and Tiyhak had no issue dodging behind a basin or hiding in the shadow of a giant metal pipe. Though he knew their final destination, getting there would be the challenge. Exiting the steam pit was the least of their worries, for soon a stone cart rocketed out of the industrial underground and flew along a metal track in the steam-powered land above. The cart jerked to a halt at the nearest station, and luckily not many Pharosh worked the night shift in the Pit. The station was empty, and the lack of rapidity allowed Tiyhak to get his bearings. He had seen the stone carts from above, but it was anyone’s guess how far they stretched. Would it be all that profitable to hop from station to station until they got to their destination?
Releasing himself to the realm of death, he pulled at the three strands that he searched for, traversing their winding paths to the source. It was some distance away, but at least he knew they were headed in the right direction. Upon his return, Kyra was ready to hear what he had to say. “So, what’s the plan?”
“Plan? Your seat-of-the-pants approached worked wonders. Perhaps I should take a page from your journal.” He pulled a lever and the cart began to move again. In reality the plan was simple enough, but she didn’t have to know that. Why should he share his plan, if she neglected to do the same.
It took a little longer than expected, but eventually they reached the Great Library. The locals presumably knew how the cart-way worked, but when he wanted to go one way, it seemed the carts did something else. Along the way he continually checked their position against the spirits in the tower until they were close enough to walk. Sticking to the shadows, or whatever shadows there were, they found their way through the streets until the library could be seen up ahead. The alarm had died down, but Pharosh still scurried around the base of the building like ants searching for a lost food trail.
“I do not suppose you could provide a distraction.”
“Don’t insult. I can be quite distracting… but that kind of distraction wouldn’t serve us very well here.”
“Certainly…” Tiyhak found his spirit informer perched atop the tower, looking down at the commotion. An idea came to him, and he took flight. The bird flapped violently pulling high into the air before dropping like a stone. Its wings lay in wait against its back, ready for a command. The ground came up to meet it, closer, closer, closer. Lights began to go off all around, those green-white flares of discovery. The wings were out, and the bird levelled off, dipping under a barrel, light glistening off the metal guns like a fireworks show. In an instant, the real fireworks started, lead balls sprouting from wildly flying weaponry. A bullet grazed the birds wing, ruffling its feather more than desired as it ducked behind the building, preparing for another pass. Again and again it dropped into play, caused a spray of bullets to fill the scene as the little bird twisted through the air. The Pharosh began to spread out, searching for the attacker.
Kyra, seeing the opportunity, ran for the library. Normally Tiyhak would have reprimanded her, or anyone, for such rash action, but not this time. She had read him perfectly. Tiyhak reached into the realm of death and gathered a small ball of power into his hands. With pin-point accuracy, he shot the beam at a lamp in the distance. The electric bolt shattered the glass, and a loud bang shook the ground as the pieces flew aimlessly into the air. Pressurized steam exploded from the lamp post in great gusts, obscuring the Pharosh which ran toward the destruction. Perfect. Lamps began to explode all around the tower as Tiyhak shot again and again. The cloud of steam grew with intensity, and when Kyra disappeared into the mess he had created, there was no way she would be seen.
Though some fear did grab him at the possibility of her being spotted and apprehended, such fears subsided as he shot across the distance with greater speed than any stone cart could ever manage. Materializing beside the spirits he had revealed beneath the library was not nearly as rewarding as spying the Tallri rushing through the doorway toward him. Three Pharosh jumped out of the steam cloud after Kyra, but there was no need to worry. Tiyhak shot an electric field at the doorway, sealing it behind the fleeing Tallri. Lizards of every size threw themselves at the opening, only to find that the way was barred. Their scales hissed and sparked with the electric shock they received. “Now, it’s time to work.”
Darkness. The inky, empty smoke surrounded me blocking out… nothing. Reaching into that death expanse, I couldn’t see my arm, nor could I feel it. The colour of death swallowed me whole, and I slid down its throat like a ghost in the night. The cruel wetness of its throat slithered against my skin as muscles expanded and contracted, pushing me down that death-hole like rejected waste thrown down this chute into the impenetrable blackness.
My heart began to beat faster and faster, a beat not my own. I felt it rocking against my rib cage, looking for purchase amidst the bones. Escape. I felt the tremor from within, but knew it wasn’t complete. The darkness around me pulsed with every beat, and I swam inside the inky mess. It strobed with purpose, like a long dead soul, awakened, enlivened again by some supernatural exchange. The blackness throbbed as blood pushed through my veins, desperate to be heard, crying out from the loneliness of death. Those wiry vessels of blood shot across my vision, red flashes from a piercing light. The white knife stuck through the darkness, and I felt like a newborn watching as my mother’s womb is cut for the unnatural extraction. The world around me burst into life as I was launched from the darkness through that rapidly growing slit in the distance.
Shielding my eyes against the light exchange, I searched for what this new world would offer, squinting and straining from behind those cruel vessels which still plagued my vision. Blinking my eyes hard, I tried to wash the lines from my face. When I closed those new eyes, darkness ensued once again and the red lines of life were ever evident.
The scene around me slowly broke through the delirium of rebirth. I was back at Coere Ghante, but not in the shack I had once called home. My screams of life had been added to screams of childbirth as I awoke for the first time in my mother’s bed, but this was different. The lowly shack was replaced with a wide-stretching field. It was just after harvest, the fields being bare except for the soft caress of golden leafs, discoloured with beauty from their tumble to the ground. Those beast-warding torches, which speckled the field, were void of fire, the sun breaking through thin clouds in a glorious exchange: ample light for the occasion. The orange flames of design had been replaced with beautiful bouquets of crimson and lavender speckled with white like snow-kissed flowers.
An equally majestic blanket stretched like a frost-bitten river between lilac rows. The rows were chairs, beautifully adorned and set up behind with a bow. Atop the chairs sat suits of blacks, greys and blues. Amidst the masculine garments were dresses coloured bright, contrasted and beautiful. However, none could compare to the white-coated bride, that dress shining brighter than them all.
Suits and dresses rose as the bride floated above the river laid out for her, leaving a long train of white behind to tickle the water with beauty. The river spread into a little pool ahead where a regal suit stood, waiting to receive that gift the water brought him. This suit was not like the others, coloured and pressed, but battle-hardened. The sun glistened off of the iron and filled in the “G” of office emblazoned on his chest.
The scene pulsed with life and happiness as my heart thumped greedily at the exchange about to occur. The bride turned to face her man, a light breeze tickling her golden tresses. They tapped her lightly freckled cheek and played with her lashes until she brought a hand up to pin them back in place behind tiny ears, crafted by a master potter. As her eyes became visible behind the brushed away hair, the rapid pulsing of my heart stopped as quickly as it had begun. My blood slowed and begun to cool as that man and his lady began exchanging vows. I wanted to scream, but couldn’t, the horror of what was happening too much for me to bear. I stood beside the groom, the crystal eyes of the bride almost looking at me. I wanted to launch myself at him, punch him, wrestle him to the ground, but try as I might, it was in vain. My ceased heart flowed no blood to the appendages required for such a fight. They hung at my sides stupid and immobile.
“Do you have the rings?” My hand moved then, like directed by another. The wet of my life rose in my throat as my heart broke free, sliding up the tunnel of my throat. How to protest when you cannot breathe? I spat out my heart. It landed in that hand directed by some unseen force. Blood poured over the edges of my palm, and I watched my life spill over the edge, colouring the blanket below. Crimson seeped into the lake, the ink spreading through the wet. It clouded through the whole expanse, spreading down the shaft of the river with vile intent.
The groom nudged me in the shoulder like an old friend, but when I looked up that face betrayed him. He reached out his hand to take the “ring” that I unwillingly offered him. I almost expected shafts of lightning to shoot from every digit as he clutched my heart. As he offered it to the bride, I saw she was different than before. No longer did golden locks dress her face in beauty, but dark cropped hair bled from her scalp.
I fell to my knees gagging, gasping for air, but it would not change the scene before me. My heart began to spit, sparkling with electric power as the groom played with it between his fingers. The heart turned as a mighty ball of power, and the man fought against the lightning coursing over its surface. It almost seemed like he could hold it in no longer when he forced his hands outward, shooting the mess at his awaiting bride. She shook with the force, and fell to the ground. She sunk beneath the waves of blood that spilled around the alter.
The priest raised his hands and said in a triumphant voice, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” A form rose from beneath the crimson pool, white dress sparking with electric energy. The lavender power speckled her body and lifted her face to the sky… that face now capped with golden ringlets. That body, that face, my love… She took the hand of another man, and with it took my heart, my soul, my spirit. The knight, turned sorcerer, turned knight again led her down the bloody path away from me. I followed, without desire, but my heart beat inside that body. It called to me from beneath the ripples of cloth.
The scene began to fade as I fell to the ground, crying out in pain. The loss of my spirit effected my soul, and my carcass showed the results. What remained of my life poured out of that whole in my face, blood from an empty space inside. Re-awakened to die again? The white train of the heart-thief’s garments dragged me with her like a chain around my neck. I tried to fight again it, but the Thief now had my spirit… my soul. I wasn’t sure what made it end, too many wounds to ascertain cause of death. Was it the empty space within me? The grief of losing her? Choked by the chain of slavery? Either way, the darkness came again, but it was not complete. This time I saw my heart, but nothing else, that heart the Thief had taken. I chased after it in the night, but it evaded me, led me, directed me. I was ever lost is that sea of blackness.