Seven

The barracks of Fort Blakely were damp and quiet, the sort of tucked-away environment that was Garridan’s natural habitat. He liked quiet. Quiet was the medium in which he worked. He moved quietly. He lived quietly.

It wasn’t the first cell he’d seen. Probably wouldn’t be the last. But there was something different about this one, about its silence. It was stagnant and stale and laced with suggestion. It seemed to fold in on itself, and any mind unlucky enough to be stuck in its tar did the same, turning over all sorts of images and thoughts long-exiled.

Gerard. It must have been four years. Or was it five? He couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t remember the exact day. He couldn’t even remember the season. Had the summer sun humiliated him, glaring down, beaming at him relentlessly as he was cast out of the Academy? Or had woolen winter clouds provided merciful cover?  He couldn’t remember, strange as it was.

So many of the details of that day were still fresh and vivid to him. But it was a chiaroscuro–the parts that his mind cast in light were brilliant, blinding, sharp, painful. But so much about it had retreated into the dark, dimmed and blotted out by the shadows. He couldn’t remember the day, the season. He couldn’t remember what Aldis had said. He couldn’t remember what he had said back. But he remembered the strange look on Gerard’s face as he left.

He remembered Gerard’s eyes. He remembered their evenness, the lids lowered just slightly so as not to show surprise or regret or remorse, but not so far that they were narrowed in shame or squeezed together in sadness. They were even and blue like the sea on the horizon.

There was treachery in their cool, blue blankness. His eyes hid how he felt–whatever he felt. It was a look he had prepared, practiced. Artificial. His lips, too. Just the same. Flat and partially bitten in and totally without feeling. He remembered Gerard’s face that day because he had never seen it so hollow.

The phantom of those weird, uncanny eyes stirred a new feeling. This one in his gut. It was a spark of anger, like a flint strike, bright and concentrated and fleeting.

He saw the Deepvale conspirator. He saw the blood. And he saw Gerard’s eyes again, as Gerard knelt over the splayed elf. But these eyes were almost wounding in their candor. The lids were fully retracted. The whites bulged. The irises bulged. The pupils bulged–these were eyes that had exploded with panic. These were eyes that rattled the core and begged–begged. They didn’t know what they begged for, but they latched onto you like a frightened child and they pleaded and they begged for help and they wept.

They cried like a frightened child because he must have been one that day.

The flint struck again.

He remembered his first mark. He remembered eyes just like Gerard’s the day the conspirator was killed. As Garridan pulled the blade out, the eyes were wide and white and frightened and they asked for mercy even though they knew it couldn’t be given now. As the mark’s stomach bled out, those eyes watered and silent tears fell over his cheeks and he opened his mouth to speak but he couldn’t–and now, thinking about it, Garridan wasn’t sure who those wide and frightened eyes belonged to. He didn’t know whose dry and breathless mouth had gasped for words. He didn’t know whose cheeks were damp with tears–the mark’s or his?

The blood, though, that wasn’t his. He had pulled the blade out–it made a strange, sticky gurgle and then the red leapt out–and the mark fell forward into Garridan’s arms, like an exhausted lover. He had supported the man’s weight for a moment, unsure what to do.  But then he simply let go and took a step back and the man slumped to the ground, limp and lifeless. Garridan looked down and found his white tunic smeared with the man’s viscera. He always wore black after that.

The flint struck again.

He remembered Juliana and Thomas, and their eyes, too. They were pained and they glistened in the dim light, wet with tenderness and regret. When he saw their eyes, for some reason, he saw them in the same room. Like it had all happened in the same place. He knew that was impossible. They belonged to his different lives. They had haunted different places. But there they were in his brain, in the same small room bathed in the same amniotic, amber light. And they were the same eyes.

The flint struck again.

Ignition.

They were all the same eyes, and they reeled round in his mind like desert birds. Anger, regret, sorrow, guilt, shame. The eyes faded and left only their impressions, their ghosts. Feelings. Flickerings. The only eyes now were his, the whites having soured into sulfur, the pupils having atrophied into slits. He did not know who he was. His own sense of self had dissolved with the eyes like so much dust. The cell–already suffocatingly small–shrank even more. He didn’t know it. It made no sense to him. The rusted bars, the stones covered in a rash of lichen, the rotting wood. It was all just matter, of no consequence and no meaning. His claws bit into the stone. His muscular tail and his membranous wings pushed at the timber walls. He flexed, and the matter gave way. The room erupted and there was pale gray all around. It was all thin, invigorating air, and he lifted up and into it, and soon he was flying and cutting through it with an otherworldly grace, as though he were the wind itself.

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