Sorell shuffled his feet as he stared at the center of the Pattern, afterimage of Cilantreau quickly fading. Random scanned the room; he had not reappeared near the edge of the chamber as Nella had. A few minutes passed, then a distant shout between guards chained down through the tunnels “He’s in the library.” Tension drained, lines relaxed around the eyes, which moved along the remaining cousins, eventually resting on Sorell.
Random stepped close, rested a hand on his shoulder. “Are you ready?”
Sorell ducked away from the touch, turned, paced to the glowing line that started only a short distance away. “Let’s get this crap over…” A booted foot raised and lowered to meet the static lines that jumped up in anticipation.
He’d heard the stories and could feign irritation or indifference, but the instant his sole touched, he realized this wasn’t a joke. Each step felt like he was wading through water slowly congealing to molasses. But there was also an exhilaration that buoyed him and gave him strength. Even if he didn’t have any interest in this realm, he thought, the powers may prove critical in stabilizing his home. Twice in his lifetime, the Order had watched as those greedy for control, mad with power, threatened to tear his entire world apart. And even if these strangers suggested that his home was but an illusion, an echo of something more, it was still his home.
Suddenly, the resistance flared – molasses hardening to mud – and he realized he was upon the First Veil. Sweat began to drip down his brow as he drew deep down within himself to keep the one foot raising, lifting, moving forward. Inch by inch, progress was made; with the physical struggle, he was propelled back to his first struggle in the wars. A great army of assorted abominations had amassed to challenge the Cragged Spine; had washed over the smaller towns and villages scattered through the foothills; had left almost nothing in its wake. Sorell picked through the corpses, looking desperately for someone he could rescue. More often than not, he joined his brothers in putting down what was already too corrupt to save. He shuddered at the destruction and retched at the rape of these souls. Eventually, he’d learned to cope with these sights, but he was glad it never came easy.
Relief! He broke through the First Veil and was invigorated. A series of quick curves and switchbacks followed and as his confidence grew, so did he begin to see a greater connection to Amber and to all that Benedict had spoken of. No longer just impatient to return to his Shadow, he now began to see the relationship between that place and Here – how each were connected to the other.
The sparks were almost past his knees as he entered the Second Veil. As he began to negotiate the series of sharp angles and switchbacks, he knew his endurance was about to be pushed to its limits. He drew from his core as a new set of memories flooded through him.
But this was uncomfortable; unfamiliar. He was young – but a boy. Strapped to a table, nervous, anesthetized. Ruddy tubes ran to his arms from great hanging bottles; several men in white robes surrounded him. He hadn’t recall being injured, but the blood that flowed into his veins seemed to tingle. A long rack on the wall seemed to contain dozens more of the red-filled bottles, all nestled in a subtle white protective glow. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a bright orange tracing along the floor – some sort of circle containing a pentagram or other symbol. In the far corner of the room, a tall man in ornate black armor watched; behind him, a faint outline of two much older figures. The woman, frail and gray-haired, sat in a low chair; her legs shriveled and propped at unnatural angles. An odd panic began to set in – both back in Sorell’s deep memories and in the more critical present.
Back in the Pattern chamber, a low roar echoed as a reddish vortex fringed in yellow began to form near the ceiling. Although the blue-white sparks were nearly up to Sorell’s waist by now, a new glow began to dominate as his veins began to shine through his skin with a sickly red-orange light. His face began to quiver, tremor, shift. A gasp from Fiona as she realized that Sorell’s clothing was now occupied by the visage of her late brother Brand. Sword invisibly to hand, Benedict rounded the room and moved to the nearest point to the Veil. Veins cracked and leaked light as Brand/Sorell broke through the Second Veil and began fighting through the Grand Curve. The roar grew to an ear-piercing whine as the swirling vortex pulsed angrily. A lightning-clap and blinding flash; a shock-wave striking outward as if a grenade had gone off. Then silence. The Pattern stood barren; no more sparks; its light faded down to normal. Sorell was no more.
Random collapsed as Bleys rushed to his side.