Authors: Mary Fan
Though the searing pain from the curse
retreats into nothingness, its absence brings little relief to my
riotous heart. Stronger than the vexation, than the feeling that my
own mind betrayed me, is the heaviness of despair. I inhale
sharply, trying to calm myself, and the icy air seems to travel
into my head. The tears keep spilling over my fingers, though, and
I try to wipe them all away.
I can’t believe that I’ve failed
again. Even my greatest efforts have been useless. I thought I was
close to uncovering a secret from my past, but I was wrong. The
only memories I have are of this cell, and of things that make no
A tree that grows clocks.
A sensation that I once
A grove with books on tree
And surrounding it all,
this heat, this pain, this curse that tortures me each time I try
to remember something. No matter where I look, I find nothing.
Maybe there’s nothing to find. I’ve been going on the assumption
that my memories are still
, just buried. But it’s
possible that they’re gone entirely, and the reason I can never
find anything is because my mind’s utterly empty.
How can that be? I
have had a life
before this cell. It’s a sensation as strong as the knowledge of
the ground I’m sitting on. How did I lose it? Why did the Sorci
trap me here? And what do they want from me?
If they won’t tell me, and I can’t
remember on my own, then what chance do I have?
I curl my knees up to my chest and let
my sobs out, knowing I won’t be able to hold them back unless they
abate on their own. The image of the clock tree lingers in my mind,
clear as daylight yet completely absurd. Such a thing isn’t
possible – that much I know. Trees can grow flowers or fruits, but
not manmade machines. Nevertheless, I let the image linger in my
mind. The tree may not be real, but it’s still beautiful to see,
with its grand, reaching branches and the delicate fineness of the
Their soft, insistent ticking echoes
through my mind, seeming to grow louder every second. My heartbeat
feels bound to their movements, pounding to their rhythm, which is
steady but urgent. Suddenly, something inside tells me to hurry,
that a great danger is lurking, that I must escape it soon. I know
this feeling must be because I’m trapped, and my instincts are
telling me to get out before the Sorci master returns and hurts me
again. But why is it turning so urgent in my heart?
The ticking of the clocks
speeds up, and my pulse follows. I’m breathing so fast now that I’m
panting with anxiety. A sheen of cold sweat forms on my skin, and I
hug the cloak in an attempt to find comfort. Something terrible is
going to happen – I’m certain of it. And there’s more – a dark and
powerful shadow looming over me, threatening not just my life, but
my whole world. I don’t even remember what that world
, but my heart holds
the feeling of a home I can’t remember, and the ominous presence
seems ready to ravage it all. It’s almost as if … whatever happens
to me will happen to my world as well.
And I can’t stop it.
Panic rises from the pit of my
stomach, and if my heart beats any harder, it will surely rip my
chest apart. But I can barely hear its thumping over the ticking of
a hundred clocks, each saying that my time is running
It’s all in my
, I tell myself adamantly.
Those clocks aren’t real – it’s all in my
But another thought
overwhelms my attempt at self-reassurance:
I have to get out.
I jump up and look around
wildly, searching for a way to escape. Yet I shouldn’t have to –
these walls are made of ice, and ice
breakable! I have to try again;
maybe I gave up too quickly last time.
I pound at the wall with my fists, but
I might as well be hammering at the iron floor. Not even a crack
appears, and the only thing I succeed in doing is bruising my
I have to get
The thought consumes my mind, as it
did when I first awoke here, and I scratch at the ice by the window
the Sorci master created, in a desperate attempt to widen it. While
I know in my head that this is useless, it’s the panic that’s
controlling me now, dictating my actions.
I have to get out! I have
to get out!
My fevered thoughts tell me that if
there’s an opening, there must be a way to squeeze through, so I
press my forehead against the bars, trying to force myself to fit
through the gap. Freedom lies just beyond the staircase the Sorci
descended, and the sight of its gray stones tantalizes me. But the
bars are just too close together, and though the frenzy in my head
orders me to keep trying, I push off the wall and stumble backward.
My heel catches the edge of the cloak, and I trip.
The impact from landing on the hard
ground shakes the madness out of my consciousness, and the ticking
fades from my mind. But I’m no calmer, even with it gone. The
tension remains, and the great despair returns. My heart turns to
lead, weighing me down, and, seeing no point in resisting, I let
I lie on the cold floor, staring at
the black bars and the frozen walls between them. I’m not sure
which is worse – the frenzy that had me pounding at ice or this
current despair. I want to die. What’s the sense in living like
this, trapped and awaiting torment, without even knowing who I am?
If I had a sense of self to cling to, or a home to miss, I might at
least have hope. But as I am, I have nothing.
I want to summon the strength to press
on, but my willpower is spent. Even knowing that the Divinity would
frown upon my thoughts can’t keep them away. The coldness of the
metal floor bites my bare leg, and I instinctively draw it up into
the warmth of the cloak.
The cloak given to me by a
There is good in this
, I remind myself. I have to hold on
to that thought. Without it, I would let the despair defeat me and
lose any chance of surviving. But I have to hope, to believe that
life is worth living.
There is good in
this world …
The mist undulates
the darkness, slow and menacing. I
back away from it, frightened to the core. I know that mist. If it
catches me, it will burn me to cinders, but not before tormenting
me with its fiery grasp.
A sudden motion catches my
eye, and I whirl toward it. But all I see is more of the silver
haze, winding through empty blackness.
Another movement. I spin
to face it and catch a glimpse of whiteness so pure, it makes the
mist look blackened and dirty. Whatever it is, it must lie beyond
the smokiness obscuring everything.
Should I go toward it and
find out what it is, knowing what the mist will do to
A tugging in my heart
urges me onward, but fear holds me back. I don’t want to feel that
fire again, especially when facing it has brought me nothing but
Then the whiteness appears
again, glowing through the mist before me, and I draw back, fearing
the mist will approach. It doesn’t. Instead, the bright object
emerges, taking the form of a snowy horse. Only its face is clear –
the rest remains a barely recognizable blur in the haze. It regards
me with wise, violet eyes, and blinks once.
Its presence is soothing
and safe, like it once protected and nurtured me. The desire to go
to it and feel the warmth of its sureness overcomes me, and I
forget my fear. I force my feet to begin moving, and walk toward it
Stars fill the tiny window to the
outside, and for a moment I just stare at them, hypnotized by their
beauty. They represent the good in a world of darkness – someone
told me that once, but I don’t try to remember who. I know better
than that now.
My body aches, and I push off the
ground, sitting up. When did I fall asleep? How long was I
unconscious? The exhaustion from my panic must have caused me to
drift off, and the worldly complaints of my body tell me I’ve been
lying here for a while. My throat itches with thirst, and my
stomach feels hollow with hunger. And yet I’ve no desire to relieve
either of them, since I can’t allay the deeper thirst and hunger of
This time, I actually wish I’d stayed
in the dreamscape – at least a little longer. That horse – it could
mean anything, since it’s such a common creature, but its presence
comforted me like nothing else could. I felt like … like I was
looking into the face of someone who loved me. Not merely as an
animal loves its master – as a mother loves its child.
But that’s just more nonsense. How
could I have a horse for a mother?
I stand with a sigh, gazing out at the
stars. If only my dreams would show me something that makes sense,
for once. Or, if they must show nonsense, why do they have to seem
so real, tantalizing me with the thought that they could be
memories, only to yank the hope out from under me when I wake and
The stars represent goodness, but
they’re beyond my reach. And staring out the window just reminds me
of how small the opening is, and how impossible it is to escape
through it. I turn away and lean back against the wall, then sink
to the ground. The sphere of yellow light sits in the nearby
corner, but its warmth does nothing to comfort me.
Just then, I hear the sound of
footsteps approaching. It must be the Sorci master, coming to
torment me again. The thought terrifies me, but there’s nowhere to
escape to, and so I remain where I am and bury my face in my
Divinity, give me
, I pray. I wish an ayr would
swoop down from the Celestial Realm and carry me away, but know
better than to pin my hopes on such foolishness, since, though the
ayri watch over the world from afar, they can’t interfere with the
everyday matters of mortals.
The footsteps come closer, and I hug
my knees tighter, knowing I can expect only pain. They stop outside
the cell. The Sorci master must be standing outside the window,
staring at me, and the last thing I want to see are those
snake-like eyes and cruel countenance. I could ask him again who I
am and what he wants with me, but he would respond only with more
Hopeless. All is hopeless.
Hello?” a voice
It’s not the Sorci master’s … it’s
Darien’s. I look up and see him gazing down at me from the window.
The flame of the torch he holds highlights his angular cheekbones
and glints off his broad shoulders, giving him a fiery halo. The
sight brings me a measure of relief, and I feel myself relax. At
the very least, he won’t hurt me. But knowing that his master would
cast his agonizing spell on me if I so much as speak to him taints
the comfort his presence would otherwise have brought. And what
would the magician do to his wayward apprentice for just that
single word, if he knew?
Darien knits his black eyebrows with
concern and tilts his head as though examining me. “Are you all
right?” he asks.
I automatically open my mouth, but
stop. If I respond, the master will accuse me of bewitching Darien
again, and inflict his cruel magic on me. The very memory of that
pain makes me quiver, and so I close my mouth, drop my gaze, and
give a slight nod. It’s a lie, answering his question in the
affirmative when I’m anything but all right, yet it’s the only
response I can give. The best thing that can happen right now is
for him to decide he’s satisfied with that answer and return to his
duties, before the Sorci master catches him talking to me
But my silence doesn’t seem to
discourage him, for he says, “Here, I brought you something to
His words, while spoken
softly, seem thunderous against the silence, and I cringe.
Please let there be no one
, I pray. My body aches with the
memory of the million claws tearing through me from the Sorci
master’s curse, and though I know the pain is just in my head, it
feels almost real. I can’t stand the thought of enduring that
again. And what if he does the same to Darien this time? The only
thing worse than suffering myself would be to see the pain
inflicted on another.