The Color Of Her Countries
by Whitney Cox and Alanna
He has been here before.
No, he hasn't. It doesn't matter.
In his dream he is standing on a flat, featureless grey plain, the ground obscured by a sere and undulating mist that swirls around his ankles. Formless, translucent shapes skitter at the edges of his awareness and then fade back into nothingness when he turns to catch an unimpeded look. Nothing but the grey; nothing but the dark. Even through the colorblindness which has always tinted his view of the world, he knows that no other man, were he able to see this, would see color. It is simply grey.
He knows that he is dreaming, because he can feel his arms.
Somewhere, he knows, he is lying on his stomach, the Blood Sin still raw and red and angry, spread out over his shoulders like the wings of a phoenix. If he thinks about it enough, he can feel the phantom pain where his arms used to be, feel the smooth sussuration of his cheek across the whispered steel of the arms that replaced them. Somewhere, he knows, his body is draped over his bed of pillows, placed there by Hardin, his ever-loyal follower. But here, he is whole again, and calm.
He does not panic; panic is beyond him, and he has never been the type. Rather, he steps forward, striding purposefully through the mists with a confidence he does not entirely feel. It is only a dream, he thinks.
"But it is not."
He turns, then, to see her -- a woman, standing there, seemingly conjured out of the mists, clad in gauze and air. Her hair falls around her shoulders, loose and unbound; her skin is dusky, her eyes malachite and emerald. And he knows, suddenly, looking at her, that this is what men mean when they say "topaz", or "emerald", or "onyx", because he can feel the colors, running over his skin like a watercolor box left in the rain.
Her very presence is heavy in the mist; it calls him to her, draws him in. Even before he knows he is moving, he has taken a step forward and asked softly, his voice ragged, "Who are you?"
She smiles, and he can see his life in her face. "But you know me already, Sydney Losstarot; or shall I say 'Laurence Bardorba'? But no, you no longer answer to that name as your own." Her soft chuckle skitters down his spine, wrapping itself around his stomach and holding tightly. "As is your right; the current Child of the Rood may call himself what he wishes."
This is almost enough to make him realize who she is, but the last bit of doubt malingers; and so he shakes his head. "I do not know, Mademoiselle; I know naught but that I am dreaming, and I do not dream."
Even as he speaks these words, though, the haze around him brands him liar. It conjures up for him a sense of deja vu, the knowledge that though he has been here many times before, this will be the first time he actually remembers his visit. The first time, and not the last.
She lifts an arm to touch his cheek; her touch burns, crimson and ochre, and the coins sewn to the edge of one of her veils ring a paeon. Soft tendrils of hue began to swim at her feet, chasing away the greys. "You will dream, now," she responds; "for your dreams are the dreams of the Dark, and the Dark dreams true. Your dreams shall be the shaping, and your will shall be the sword. But I get ahead of myself." Another little chuckle. "I am named Muellenkamp. It is a name I am certain you know."
Late nights in his erstwhile father's library, the light of a single candle burning far into the night. The woman of the pages seeming to speak to him, to read her knowledge directly into his mind, speaking of men and the evil of which they are capable. The slow, steady realization of what he would have to do. "Muellenkamp." He savors the name; a breath, a gasp, a whisper. "How came you here?"
She rests a hand on his elbow, the flesh warm and living. "I have been a child of the Dark for more years than you had ever hoped of seeing, Rood-Bearer; and though I have been sleeping for some time, yet now I waken." She lifts that hand, fingertips brushing across his lips like vapor on a copper kettle, her touch lightning and heady. "For I am part of the Blood Sin, and it is part of me; we are one."
Though his surroundings are still uncertain, unfamiliar in the way that only things long-lost to memory can be, the sensation of a woman's hand on his skin provides him with at least some small anchor from which to begin to make sense of things. "And now the Blood Sin is a part of me," he muses softly, lifting his hand to her face. As he does so, his fingers brush a veil with small coins sewn around the edges; the jingling the pieces of metal make as they run together lets loose a shower of iridescent light. Fascinated, he smiles, turning his head to watch them fall. "Which means that you are a part of me, and I see as you would."
"Only here," she replies, bringing her arm to sweep across the bare skin of his shoulder. "For this is not reality, yet it is perhaps much more real than what you see while waking." Gentle as snowfall, her fingers dip to the top of his spine, the part between the shoulderblades where the tip of the Blood Sin begins; the touch is unexpectedly sharp, piercing, and he hisses sharply between his teeth as it wakes some nameless need. "And I have come to help you make sense of things."
His eyes, kaleidoscopic now in ways that he will never be able to appreciate, shift as he watches her; before his eyes had never been what one would term 'normal,' but now, augmented by the Dark, they sparkle with diverse colours that, even reflected by a mirror, his own colourblindness will never allow him to see. "No library of the occult could ever prepare one for the experience, I suppose." His voice in his own ears is clipped and breathy, the high, slightly nasal tone ringing not unpleasantly through the nothingness. Gently, his fingers slip backward through her hair, brushing at the soft strands, sending ripples of chiming sounds through the trinkets and veils. "Am I truly, then, accepted of the Dark?"
Gently, she passes her eyes across his form, pleased. "Accepted and welcomed, Rood-Bearer. The Dark has not had in quite some time a servant with such promise."
The compliment resonates in his ears, wakening the self-assurance he had begun to forget in this dreamscape. The hand slipping through her hair remains there, letting the fineness of her locks pass through his fingers, while his other hand seeks out the bare flesh at her hip. His eyes follow the movements of his hand, taking in with no small amount of awe and wonder the spectrum there. Gone is the shade that covers his eyes in the waking world, that causes all colours to filter together, making the world look something like a sepia-toned photograph. The world is still grey; she, however, is her own spectrum. Her skin is rose-brushed, bronzed but not brown, dark enough where his own pale hand stands out in stark relief against the soft flesh of her body. His thumb strokes idly her hip.
The hand brushing his back slips down further, across the newly-burned Blood Sin. Even though his mental impression of himself is still so strong as to retain his human arms, his dream-self cannot help being aware that he has been branded a servant of the Dark. She moves in his arms, sending off another wave of visible noise. "You will be master of the Dark, but you will never control it. You will control the Dark, but you will never master it.
"You shall do its bidding as surely as it shall do yours, for though the Dark is not feeble enough to require an avatar, it desires a point of focus, a point of contact." She sweeps her fingers along his shoulders, punctuating her touch with the tips of her fingernails, just enough to make their presence felt. "Can you feel yet the power in you?" she whispers into his ear. Her lips brush his earlobe as she speaks, causing him to shiver as surely as the sensations of contact on his torso do.
Breathing deeply, he nods. "I can."
Her fingers trace paths from his shoulders to the front of his chest, leaving tiny red trails against his porcelain body as they pass. "It is yours, but it is not yours. It is of you, but it is not from you. It comes through you, but you are neither its source nor its destination. It is its own beginning and end; you are all that lies between."
"And what are you?" His mouth finds the junction of her neck and shoulder, the soft skin there, and he presses his lips to taste her skin. The essence of gold and starlight, of bonfires and danger, lingers on his lips.
The sound of her laughter rings with the same iridescent tone of her many veils. "A lover, a child, a mother. A seeker; a prophet. I am many things, Rood-Bearer, and it shall no doubt take you many years before you understand them all." A little, secretive smile graces her lips. "If, indeed, you do, for many do not."
"And what shall you do?" He catches her hand, suddenly, turning her palm over as if to read her future--and perhaps his own--in its lines. "Are you of the Dark? Are you only an illusion brought to me by the Dark?"
"Perhaps." A soft smile curves her lips. "Perhaps I am the Dark, brought forth to haunt your every night; but then again, perhaps I am not." Her soft laugh chimes between them, and roses and ivy spring forth where the syllables fall. "And then again, perhaps I am just a manifestation of your innermost thoughts and fears, the dreams that built themselves from the time you were locked in darkness until the time you emerged into the day. You will not know for quite some time. But for now, it does not matter."
He hears her words, but he is more fascinated by the life that beginning to spring up in the grey around her, tendrils bleeding through the formless fading nothingness to chafe the slumbering colors to life. "What have you come here to do?" he asks, running a hand along her hip, feeling the gossamer veils shifting beneath his fingertips.
She shrugs, setting up a musical chiming. "Guide you. Support you. Provide advice where I may, and lend you strength where I may. There is only one thing I must do first."
"And this would be?"
"Make you remember."
She draws him close and kisses him, sexual and passionate; one hand trails up his face and touches, lightly, between his eyes.
Remember the Dark. Remember the paling.
Remember everything that has yet to happen to him.
Remember Lea Monde. Remember the end. Remember the beginning.