Bonus Story: Path Of Darkness

on April 28, 2008 in Other Tales

For everybody who wondered what’s going on with Dee…

Dee awoke to darkness.

At least, that’s what it would seem like to a member of another race. Dee, however, could see perfectly fine in perfect darkness, and so she had no way to describe what she was experiencing.

She could, in fact, see darkness, in the same way that most people could see light. She could see the subtle gradations of tone within a shadow in a way that never failed to remind her of the way the shiny black hair of her lover, Dehsah, caught the darkness and reflected it.

Even when her eyes were closed, she could see the insides of the lids with perfect clarity.

What she was seeing was not darkness as she knew it. It was not anything as she knew it. That was it, in fact… it was nothing that she was seeing.

Even more disturbing than the nothingness was the silence.

The truly subterranean races, those who lived in the network of natural caverns which sprawled deep beneath the surface of the world, referred to death as “the sudden silence.” It was an idiom which had originated among the sightless ones, whose perception of the world was shaped and bound entirely by sound, but it had long since spread to the elves and other races who could see, by light or by darkness.

No matter how deathly still the underworld might seem to visitors from above, no matter how quiet its denizens seemed, those denizens understood that life was noisy, that life was noise… and when that noise stopped, when even the sound of your own pulse in your ears, your own heart in your chest, your own breath died away, it could only mean that you had, too.

“Hello?” Dee called into the nothingness, and was ashamed at the profound relief she felt when she heard her voice.

Why ashamed? she wondered. She was not supposed to fear death, but there was nothing shameful about being happy to be alive. Still, her reaction bothered her, for reasons that she could not articulate, and that bothered her even more.

She decided to focus on something else.

“If I can speak, I have a mouth,” she said, gaining awareness of her lips, tongue, jaws, and cheek as she said these words. “If I can hear, I have ears and a mind. From that, it follows that I have a head…”

She did not need to say the rest of what followed naturally from this: a neck, and all the rest. In this way, her body came back to her, though she felt oddly disconnected from it.

Part of this was the way she seemed to be hanging in a void. Part of it was that she didn’t feel anything, in the same way in which she could not see anything and had not heard anything.

This lack of sensation was internal as well as external. She remembered feeling tired… no, not just tired. Bone-wearyingly, soul-crushingly fatigued. She didn’t feel anything like that now.

She had never felt that way before coming to Magisterius University. Her society had a time and place for everything, and while there were periods of hard work and intense devotion, they each came with a designated beginning and end. When she even began to feel worn down, it was the sign that her time of rest was near.

Now, three weeks without a proper rest had slowly worn her down. The painfully bright light, both inside and out, had taken its toll. Actively using her mental gifts… reaching out, touching minds that were not open and receptive, crossing the barrier to physically manipulate the world… had not come without a price, either.

Things had progressed to the point where she felt like she might do anything for a decent shift’s sleep.

“So, you’ve started to work it out,” somebody said, from behind.

Dee turned, gaining the power of bodily movement now that there was another reference point in the void apart from her own body. She knew the voice very well, as it was among the first that she had heard in her life.

“Dehsah,” she said. “My pretty Dehsah. Why am I seeing you here?”

“You are so surprised to find me, dwelling in your mind?” Dehsah said. “Are you so faithless, Delia?”

“Are you my mother, to address me so?” Dee responded, shocked by the rude familiarity.

Nobody except the other daughters of the line… that was to say her mother and the matriarch… ever addressed her by her given name without her matronymic. Even her own sisters were not afforded that privilege.

“I am you,” Dehsah said. “I have nothing to say but what words you put in my mouth. Though, that you should give to me the level of intimacy reserved for your mother isn’t too surprising, considering who it was that nursed you when you were young.”

“The real Dehsah would not speak such blasphemy,” Dee said. “And neither would I.”

Dee waved her hand, and the image of her amakan shimmered and melted, running down and then seeming to pool like liquid. The fluid substance of her memories began to flow away from her, like a shallow stream running over an uneven bed of rock. It made a path in the nothingness, and she began to follow it.

The path was the same shiny black as Dehsah’s hair.

She could hear her footsteps on the rocky ground, even if she couldn’t see it. The sound echoed off rough cavern walls, giving her the shape of them.

She heard other things, too. The other priestesses who had been novices alongside her, chanting prayers. Her mother. Her great-great-grandmother, who ruled the house. Her grandmother, who had died before she came of age. Her younger sisters. Her long-dead brother, whose voice she’d only heard in borrowed memories.

They were all indistinct jumbles, and none of these memories loomed out of the nothingness to address her directly, as Dehsah had.

“Ce’s right, you know,” Steff said, walking beside her. The faint elvenblood carried a candle, which guttered and stank like the ones Dee had read about before coming to the surface.

“I am aware of that,” Dee said. She didn’t look at Steff, and only in part because the light of the candle stung her eyes. “This is obviously a dream. As I am too far removed from Dehsah to be making true contact, cer presence here must be a product of my own imagination, as is yours.”

“Well, that, too,” Steff said. “But I meant about the whole ‘mommy’ complex.” Dee was still avoiding looking at Steff, but in doing so, she saw the wispy images of Dehsah forming on what would have been the cavern wall. Ce looked young and vibrant as ce always would, with an infant who might have been Dee or any of her more recent maternal ancestors suckling at cer breast. “Dating your old wet nurse? That’s more than a little bit creepy, even with the whole ‘ageless’ thing.”

“I do not discuss my personal life with you in real life,” Dee said to Steff. “I do not know why you think I’d do so in a dream.”

The figment had changed to show a somewhat older child, who was now unmistakably herself, sitting on Dehsah’s knee and being given rudimentary instruction in reading… or perhaps simply having a book read to her.

“You mean, you don’t know why you think that,” Steff said. “Because it’s your dream, and here we are, talking about it.”

“My mind is wandering,” Dee said. “Clearly I am not myself.”

“Then who are you?”

“I am Delia Daella d’Wyr,” Dee said. “Daughter of Daella Degra d’Wyr, daughter of…”

“Yes, we know all that,” Steff said. “And you’re dating…”

“I do not date.”

“Fine, then,” Steff said. “You’re fucking your former nursemaid, a hotty guardsman, and a haughty priestess…”

The ghostly image of Dehsah, which kept pace with them no matter how quickly Dee stalked down the path, was now flanked by Darek, who was having his way with one of his young paramours from the men’s barracks, and Alea, who was seeing to the needs of Dee herself. Dehsah was still tending a younger version of Dee, now playing some chasing game with the child.

“I am not doing what you said with anybody at the present time,” Dee said, forcing the images to recede.

“What you said,” Steff corrected her.

“I am dreaming about having a conversation with you,” Dee said. “That does not mean that everything you say is a representation of my own inner thoughts.”

“Fine, whatever,” Steff said.

“That aside, your account of my lovers is too generous by one,” Dee said.

“Right,” Steff said. She stepped forward and held her candle out. Its light caught on unseen forms within the void, illuminating the space in front of them in a way that Dee had never experienced. The flickering light seemed to reveal or create a scene before her eyes.

Is this how other creatures see?

She recognized the figures in the scene… she recognized the scene, though it was incomplete. The setting was her private chamber. Her amekan, Darek, was there, as was Dehsah. Two cloaks hung on the wall.

Darek was dressed in supple leggings of lizard skin lined with nearly weightless spider mail and a similarly reinforced but beautifully tailored shirt. With his lizard skin gloves, the only skin that was exposed was above the shirt’s high collar.

Dehsah, by contrast, wore cer customary robes, which would have been identified as a “dress” by other cultures… low-cut and form-fitting, to show off the contrasting sets of assets ce boasted above and below. Ce held a silver tray with three silver goblets on it, expertly balanced on a single hand.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Alea?” Dehsah asked, addressing the empty air. “She isn’t going to want to miss one last chance to say goodbye.”

“I have already said goodbye to Alea,” Dee said, stepping off the path and into the memory. Now, as then, she spoke without inflection and felt her mind clamping shut. Now, as then, she knew that this did nothing to keep the truth of her feelings from her lovers.

“And so now you’ve come to say goodbye to us?” Dehsah asked, eyes bright and brittle with fear.

“Never,” Dee said. “I will love you forever, pretty Dehsah. If you died tomorrow, and I lived a thousand cycles longer, I would still spend every moment of my life loving you.”

Except, that hadn’t been what she had said, and so her memory of Dehsah did not respond to it.

It had been what she had meant, but it would have been wildly inappropriate.

“What I don’t get,” Steff said, “or what I wouldn’t get, if I was actually here, is Dehsah’s dress.”

“What do you mean?” Dee asked, looking at Dehsah. Both ce and Darek had frozen when she’d gone off-script.

“Your boytoy’s stuff is a little frilly, but aside from being lined with leather and mail, it still covers more than would be fashionable under the light of day,” Steff said. “But Dehsah’s got cleavage… and there’s only two cloaks hanging up there, for three people. What’s up with that?”

“Dehsah’s body is a gift from Arakhis the Forsaken,” Dee said. “It would be a sin to hide it away.”

“Do you say that because you believe it, or because you like to look at cer?” Steff asked.

“The two are not mutually exclusive,” Dee said.

“Have you ever asked how Dehsah feels about being paraded around?”

“I can only assume that ce is justifiably proud,” Dee said. “As are all the halfkind with which House d’Wyr is blessed.”

“Proud, of being an ornament in a society in which there is no greater shame than uselessness?” Steff said.

“Dehsah is far from useless,” Dee said. “Ce raised me, and my mother before me, and her mother, and her mother, and her mother, and her mother.”

“So, Dehsah played nanny to six generations of d’Wyri noblewomen,” Steff said. “Not exactly a bad position to fill… and leaving that aside, what did ce do in-between?”

“Ce had cer functions to perform, the same as any other member of the household,” Dee said.

“Nothing so indispensable that ce couldn’t be released the moment one of cer charges grew up and fell in love with the color of cer hair.”

“It is not just Dehsah’s hair,” Dee said. “Or even cer body. Just because you have a vulgar fascination with the physical…”

“Hey, I’m not even here,” Steff said, holding up her hands. “I don’t even know about any of this stuff.”

“So, you are trying to tell me… what? That I feel guilty about my treatment of Dehsah? I love cer,” Dee said, turning from the tableau of her frozen lovers and striding up to Steff as she spoke. “I have loved cer every day of my life. My first memories are of Dehsah, of cer shiny black hair.”

“At least it isn’t of cer breasts,” Steff said. “Creepy.”

“In any event, if I were to feel guilty over my treatment of any of my lovers, it would almost certainly be my former amikan,” Dee said. “But I do not. She chose to break with me.”

Dee turned away from Steff and found herself facing Alea, hooded and robed. Her cowl was pushed back enough to show her face and her metallic gray hair, but she hadn’t taken it off completely even though they were alone in the bare cell which Alea shared with seven other novices. This, even more than Alea’s strict shielding, foretold what was to come.

“Your mind is made up, then,” Dee said.

Alea dropped her head.

“I have already stated my intentions to the temple matron,” she said. “I will be released from my service before the cycle is over.”

“You do not have to leave the house,” Dee said.

“I do,” Alea said.

“You do not!” Dee said, her voice rising outside of her control. “There is a place for you…”

“My place was with you,” Alea said. “But you will not be here.”

“If you fear how you will be treated in my absence, know that Darek will…”

“I do not love Darek,” Alea said. “I love you.”

“You have a strange way of showing it.”

“I would go with you, if you let me,” Alea said.

“It is unthinkable,” Dee said. “You are only a novice. You…”

“I have been released from my service,” Alea reminded her. “Or do you only love me as a priestess of the Forsaken?”

Dee did not answer. In real life, she had. In her dream, she turned away and stepped out of the memory.

“What did you tell her?” Steff asked.

“That is not any of your concern,” Dee said.

“Is it any of yours?”

“What do you mean?”

“I just wonder if you’re losing any sleep over it,” Steff said.

“I have not had much sleep to lose, of late,” Dee said. “But that is easily enough explained by the circumstances of my housing.”

“Right,” Steff said. “Because being crowded into a dorm is absolutely nothing like the living situation in House Sardine Can.”

“You think my sleeping problem is due to guilt over my treatment of my lover?”

“Lovers,” Steff said. “I think you have issues with all of them.”

“I suppose next you’ll tell me that I’m leaning on Darek’s ambition as a crutch, as I have none of my own,” Dee said.

“That would probably have been the next step on our trip through memory lane, but I think you just saved us the trouble,” Steff said.

“So you do think that.”

“I’m not here,” Steff said. “Do you think that?”

“I think I have nothing to be guilty over,” Dee said. “Dehsah is a cherished member of our household. Darek’s personality is a fitting complement to my own. I regret my parting with Alea, but the choice was hers. I could have done nothing to prevent it.”

“If you say so,” Steff said.

“I say so because it’s all true,” Dee said.

“Well, if you’re bound and determined not to make any personal progress of any kind, there isn’t much point in hanging around in here,” Steff said. “Which brings us to the next problem: how you intend to wake up.”

“How does that remotely resemble a problem?”

“Have you tried waking up?” Steff asked. “For instance, when you first realized you were trapped in a formless void?”

“No,” Dee said.

“Just for the sake of experimentation, why don’t you?” Steff asked.

“I feel absolutely no inclination to do so,” Dee said.

“Because you’re having such a wonderful time?”

“Perhaps I’m not done resting,” Dee said. “Although, incidentally, I will point out that the idea that I could not wake up if I wanted to conflicts rather nicely with your idea that my guilt-wracked mind will not let me rest.”

“Unless you did something to overrule your own mind,” Steff said.

“I do not know what you mean.”

“You were desperate,” Steff said. “Exhausted… mentally, physically, and spiritually. Your back’s all burned and peeling, and you’re too proud to use your healing on yourself or ask anybody else to do the same. Add that to any emotional torment you may or may not be feeling about how you left things with your lovers… and the technique was fresh and clear in your mind.”

“What technique?” Dee asked.

“You aren’t normally this dense, Delia,” Dehsah said, on the other side of her from Steff. Dee turned to face cer, turning her back on the half-breed in the process. “Do you hear that?”

“I hear nothing but your voice and my own,” Dee said.

“Somebody’s at your door,” ce said. “I know it would normally be my function to answer it…”

“I never thought of you as a servant,” Dee said quickly.

“That’s true,” Dehsah said. “You never do think about it.”

“I love you,” Dee protested.

“And I you,” Dehsah said. “We’ve seen into each other’s minds often enough for you to know this to be true.”

“Yes,” Dee said. “The differences in our station are nothing.”

“You know, this is why Alea left,” Dehsah said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Excuse me, I said that wrong,” Dehsah said. “You know this is why Alea left. You can’t—or won’t—acknowledge your position and what it means, especially to those of us who are so tightly bound to you.”

“It means nothing,” Dee said. “Did I ever remind you of your place?”

“Did you ever have to?” Dehsah asked. “But when I brought you food and drink, when I served Darek and Alea and took nothing for myself, did you ever stop and tell me it was not necessary?”

“It made you happy to do so,” Dee said.

“It made you happy, too,” Dehsah said. “There was no question in your head that it was fitting. It’s part of why you loved me. You might have been infatuated with your pretty nursemaid regardless, but you could not have had a relationship with someone who didn’t know their proper place. You know this.”

“If I ‘know’ all this, why do I need a dream of you to tell me it?”

“Because you would never admit it… not to yourself, not when you’re awake,” Dehsah said. “You want to believe that love can defeat any obstacle. You are as romantic and idealistic as somebody of your position can be.”

Dee’s chamber formed around them again, and Dehsah was naked. Dee had just come of age, and they were at the beginning of their relationship. Now that Dee’s thirtieth cycle had been reached, there were no more objections Dehsah could raise against the persistent courtship which had begun when Dee was only twenty.

“I should have known you’d have your way in the end,” Dehsah said. Ce giggled. “You were a horrendously difficult child, you know.”

“I was not,” Dee said.

“But you were,” Dehsah said. “Your mother was bound and determined to spoil you as no child of the d’Wyri has ever been spoiled, and you ruined it by wanting nothing.”

“That isn’t true,” Dee said, slowly lowering herself to her knees in front of Dehsah’s swollen member. “I wanted you.”

“And… so… you got me.”

“It wasn’t like that!” Dee yelled, jerking to her feet and tearing herself out of the scene.

“Like what?” Steff asked. “Like ce had no choice in the matter? Like your mother and great-great-grandma effectively assigned cer to you?”

“Ce is bound by the dictates of cer position,” Dee said. “But so am I.”

“Yeah, but your position has better benefits,” Steff said.

“That doesn’t change the fact that we love each other!”

“It’s your guilt, sweetie, not mine,” Steff said.

“I have had just about enough of this,” Dee said. “This dream is over. I am waking up, right now.”

“Suit yourself,” Steff said. “I just hope it goes better for you than it did last time.”

“What do you mean, last time?” Dee demanded, but Steff was already fading away, along with the path they had been following and any concrete memory of what they had been talking about.

Dee awoke to darkness.

At least, that’s what it would seem like to a member of another race. Dee, however, could see perfectly fine in perfect darkness, and so she had no way to describe what she was experiencing.

Discuss This Story On The Forum

Enjoy the bonus? Show your support with a donation!

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

Characters: , , , ,

8 Responses to “Bonus Story: Path Of Darkness”

  1. pedestrian says:

    It has been interesting to review all the different variations of dream sequences that Alexandra uses to expand the depth of TOMU. Providing us, her readers, with a wealth of background knowledge and her evolving meta-analysis of her character’s motivations.

    Then to contrast these chapters with her dream entries on her LiveJournal blogs. I am envious that A.E. has such an amazing ability to coherently remember her dreams. I dream a lot but usually I only remember fragments of nightmares, particularly if they wake me up.

    I remember talking to my wife about dreams and how different our experiences are. Mine tend to be colorful, exhausting, violent. Alberta’s dreams she could remember were in black and white and tended to be about riding her locoweed stallion or racing one of her cars.

    Current score: 0
    • Athena says:

      Coherently remember dreams? What I wouldn’t give to coherently remember the time I spend *awake*. Hoping to remember my dreams just kind of seems like over-extending for someone with as much difficulty with memory and time as myself 😛

      Current score: 0
      • nobody says:

        My memory is about the same with dreams as day to day, any memory I have is clear, however, order gets impossible to remember over time.
        This just gets worse since I put no effort in tracking time to begin with.

        Current score: 0
  2. Arakano says:

    Ah, Dee… what sweet privilege-denying fool you are… :-/

    Current score: 0
  3. Anthony says:

    Hmm… we’re told the ROTT originated with Two’s dreams, but don’t the dream-figures Dee is speaking with act a lot like it? (Those who have read a bit further on will know what I mean…)

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      Anthony, I see your point.

      I think, along the ROTT plotline, TWO inveigles Dee
      into assisting her into getting the ROTT out of the
      golem girl’s mind by transferring the ROTT construct
      to Dee’s mind.

      There the ROTT continues to adapt and evolve from Dee’s
      attempts to {if you will please pardon the expression}
      dee-construct the unwanted newly hatched AI of the ROTT.

      Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Well, unlike the dream constructs here, the ROTT is independent. This version of Steff is just a reflection of Dee’s mind, the ROTT however is a far more literal entity.

      Current score: 0
  4. undertheteacup says:

    One of my favorite chapters in the entire series. So powerful.

    Current score: 0