Andrea Novis Episode 12
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
Stifling her own breath, holding still so no crup of dirt would mask the sound, wishing her own heart would be silent, Andrea Novis listened.
She was certain she heard two different people breathing.
“Cassie? Sir Robert?” she called softly. There was no answer. Her voice had a muffled quality which told her she was in a very small space indeed.
And yet the sound of the others came faintly from a fair distance away. She felt the alarm rising in her again. Her body knew she was back in the cramped cell but the messages she received did not match that knowledge.
Close to horrible panic, she closed her eyes again, tried to focus on calm peace. Better to take an hour at this than to give way to terror.
But she had not the time! She felt presences all around, as though a thousand souls lay mute on every side. There was to be no rest, no peace. She must master this darkness whilst surrounded by horror!
Opening her eyes because it would make no difference, she leaned forward to get on her hands and knees. She would crawl carefully toward the nearer sound of breathing.
Only then did she see: a patch of ground near her hands glowed softly with that eldritch light.
She gasped and nearly jerked away. But she forced herself to look.
The glowing patch contained only dirt and sand, tiny pebbles and several blades of grass which rose like little daggers.
It was this which she had seen when she awoke!
The sharp crystals were grains of sand, the boulders were the tiny pebbles, the daggers were the blades of grass. That was why her body had felt only softness: she lay on a grass lawn and what she had “seen” were the minute things her hands touched as she awoke. Her hands, exquisitely sensitive after nine months in the dark, had felt these things as huge though they had been their normal size.
But she saw these things now, saw them with her eyes. There, in two small pools where her hands had touched the land, she saw in that strange light the actual shapes of the pebbles, the grass. How could it be?
Well, and it was magic, most surely. Why should she insist on a rational explanation for an eldritch light where her hands had touched? A tiny range of mountains surrounded a land a hundred miles wide; a mysterious force swept the unwary off their feet and pulled them in; and even the histories said Elemar had been lost to magic those many ages ago.
But these glowing pools of light troubled her as nothing else. Her life had been untouched by magic, excepting that she had seen the face of the goddess in the pool several years ago. Everything she had accomplished had been because of deep meditation and effort of will. This light, this magic light, was physically real and yet it resembled exactly the light she had seen (but never with her eyes) in that small cell.
For a moment, she thought back to the cell, dangerous though it seemed to allow the memories too much power here. She could still see every inch of it in her mind’s eye, though she had only seen it in actual light in that glaring instant when Sir Robert had let her out. She could see the rough places of the floor and the lines where the stones joined, the spider web and the cracks in the wall, the rude cot and the jug of water and the plate for food and even the iron portal where food and water were put in for her. How she had waited by that portal in the first weeks, hungry for the smallest glimmer of light as the jailor opened the iron door on the other side. But it was rigged so that the outer door could not open while the inner door was open, and she had finally given up.
In her mind, all these things hovered in soft white light, something like she imagined a ghost might glow if she ever saw one.
Better not to think of ghosts here, just as she had carefully kept thoughts of ghosts and the dead away from her during those long months past. The hairs on the back of her neck already bristled with the feeling that spirits were packed thick all around her, so thick that if you were a small boy you might trip over their outstretched feet…
She could not bear to be still any longer. She hated to leave the patches of light but they illuminated nothing. On hands and knees she crawled toward the breathing which sounded nearer. Soft blades of sweet grass bent under her hands. “Cassie? Can you hear me, sweet?”
She found herself expecting a stone wall to press implacably into her forehead and focused her mind on the feel of grass, the grit of tiny stones, the brush of an occasional tall frond.
At last she cautiously stood, expecting to knock her head against a close roof, and walked forward step by cautious step, arms outstretched, hands testing the very air.
She held still again and listened, adjusted her direction. The sound was ghostly hard to pin down. Again and again she switched directions, the sound now on her left and now on her right.
After several minutes, or maybe an hour, she realized that she felt too cut off from sensation. Her boots protected her feet as they should but in the cell she had been naked, she had been used to every tiniest sensation on her skin. It would be madness to go naked here but she could at least take off her boots and stockings.
Once she felt grass on her feet, felt it caress the tips of her toes like a thousand silken feathers, she knew she had made the right decision. She felt as though hairlike roots sank down from the soles of her feet into the earth. Even better, she knew she was not in her cell because her feet told her so: there was grass and sweetness here.
And then, when the sound of breathing seemed as dull and far away as ever, her left foot came down on a leather-clad leg. Most surely it was Cassie in her green and brown leathers.
She knelt and found the chest and the ridges of laced leather string. Cassie breathed evenly. Andrea reached over, laid a hand lightly on the forehead, felt wet trails of thick liquid. Blood. She could nearly see it gleam.
And then she did see it gleam. As red as dark wine, the line of blood on Cassie’s face was smeared by her own fingers. And lacings of leather string visibly rose and fell, while the leather legging she had touched first lay like a dried peach on the grass.
In fact, as Andrea Novis looked behind her for the first time she saw that she was at the end of a trail of glowing spots connected by lines which zigzagged back and forth until they disappeared in the distance. Not far away, the trail stopped but resumed in the further distance.
Filled with foreboding, she made a theory and proceeded to test it. Closing her eyes, she stroked Cassie’s face, soothed her soft cheek, traced the firm eyebrows and the hawk-like nose, felt what she had forgotten, the small wart on the left side of Cassie’s nose. Cassie also had a mole under her left eye: Andrea Novis could only barely feel the trace of it.
She let a breath go in and out before she opened her eyes.
Cassie’s face was beneath her, eyes closed, smeared with blood, pale and tired, seen as though in a dream.
She “saw” the things she had touched: the face, the chest, the leg of her friend, the spots of ground where her hands had rested as she crawled or where her feet had stood. Where she had walked with no skin contact with the ground, she saw nothing.
And yet even there she saw something. It was hard to define but she felt that she could see through something, could see the air as it moved like a perfectly clear fog.
The air her hands had touched as they groped their way forward.
Her breathing quickened; her pulse throbbed with feeling. She was on the verge of understanding the prophecy, she knew this. But the idea was simply too big for instant comprehension, and it evaded her.
Kissing Cassie’s forehead again, vowing “I’ll get you out of here, sweet,” she stood and felt her way on through the darkness.
To be continued…