Another day in Chimera was greeted with more dense fog and still no sign of Pitney. Ottelo, though previously bolstered in both faith and courage, had opted for silence once again; content to listen to Edward and Benjamin bicker back and forth about governing the lands and the powers that be. Ottelo let out an occasional grunt or sigh to keep them sure of his presence as he trailed behind. A few times, he had fallen far enough behind to give in to the desire and throw a mirage of ReAnne or Pitney. He told himself it was to remind him of what he was so desperately searching for beyond the emptiness of the white walls of mist that closed in at all sides.
He was sinking, perhaps, into despair and doubt; the endless search for whatever it was that would restore ReAnne and recovering Pitney both proving fruitless. He did not need Benjamin to confirm the growing anger that he felt in himself. Nor the despair or doubt. All three emotions, he knew, were at risk for tipping the scale to uncontrollable.
Adding to his frustration was the ever increasing need to throw mirages.
He looked to Benjamin and Edward, both of whom seemed perfectly content in this dreadful place and it angered him further. The two conversed freely, pointing out things in the forest Ottelo could not yet see, or offering each other a small token of bread from in the knaps. They didn’t seem concerned about Pitney or their sister, happy to trudge along in the dreary hole of a forest. They seemed sure of themselves. They could be the heroes to their kingdom and save the princess even though they willingly admitted they had no idea what they were doing. Benjamin glanced back at Ottelo, a huge smile on his face, laughter making his body convulse atop his mount. Was Edward such a funny sort that he made Benjamin chuckle so? Ottelo heard himself give off a sort of growl in response and turned his head to focus on the felled tree that passed to his right. Who were they to find laughter in this time? How was it possible they found anything humorous? Because they didn’t really care, he reasoned. They would not wonder what happened to their sister when she never came out of her illness and died a young maiden. They would rule, all the same. Sister, or no sister.
They certainly didn’t care there was no sign of Pitney, other than the one he was throwing now. Tall, dark, smiling. Not at all worried about his fate in this forest. Just as Ottelo wanted to remember him. In a minute, he wiped Pitney away and ReAnne stood in his place. Brown hair, hazel eyes. Her lips drawn up in a smile, revealing white teeth. Her eyes, laughing at him, as if she knew something that he did not. He tried, as he had when his gift was first bestowed, to throw a mirage of himself. It ended in a chastisement, of course, for Veil of Mind was hindered by the ability to throw mirages of oneself and you could waste a great deal of your energy attempting to at no avail.
He concentrated hard on a memory of an oil painting of himself that hung in the grand hallway of Staas Castle. In it, he was standing next to his old horse, Whicker, holding the reins, but looking towards a source of light. His mother, Queen Dima, had always said it looked as though he were looking towards a bright future. Maybe, if he concentrated on the painting, he could throw that image towards his of ReAnne. Then, they would be together. He almost laughed at himself, the love struck sentiment of his thoughts. When had he grown so sure of their binding?
Still, he ignored Yavin’s advice about just trying to make it flow free, to be second nature, since the atmosphere of the forest was doing that much for him anyway. Instead, he concentrated hard on the image of the painting and took in a deep breath. As he breathed out, he watched the image float and flicker in the air, rolling in the mist like steam waves when summer rain falls on the hot ground. He saw a glimpse of his eyes and the flash of white from the horse. Excited at his progress, he concentrated harder, thinking of his wavy hair when he first wakes and how it likes to fly like a halo atop his head for a little while until it calms down and settles towards his shoulders. There was another glimmer. His hair. But from the corner of his eye, he saw ReAnne was fading. For a split second, he let his mind return to her until her image proved strong, once again. Wavy hair, light source, Whicker, the reigns…a spot of tree in the corner, brown eyes, grey vest with gold trim and sapphire blue buttons. He could see them, as well as one can see details while constantly blinking.
ReAnne was fading again.
No! Ottelo screamed in his head as he diverted his focus again to her form. Satisfied with her once more, he returned to his own mirage. Another flicker. White. Whicker. Green. Tree. Bright yellow. Light. As it came time to refocus his attention on his face, he breathed another deep breath. But as he blew out, an instant image of the red Grand Vex from the fight in the desert flew through the recreated painting. It made straight for his face in a rage, revealing pointed teeth and a long black tongue. In less than a second, it was on top of him. It screamed, shrieking, its furious wrath shown in orange eyes. He cried out, ducking low as he shielded his face with his arms, trying to keep whatever harm it meant for him from toppling him completely off his horse and from those teeth from sinking into his head. He braced himself, waiting for the blow of the vex to meet with its target.
It never came.
“Ot?” Benjamin yelled out. “Are you well?”
At the question, Ottelo felt his stomach turn over and bile begin to rise in his throat. He slowly dropped his arms from his face. A mist of white filled his sight. The vex was gone. ReAnne, too, was gone. Nothing sat in the hollow space between him and the mist except the sound of Edward’s voice.
“Ottelo?” Edward swung Regal around towards him just in time to catch him as his eyes rolled to the back of his head and his body started to slide off the saddle.
Benjamin dismounted and rushed over to help, pulling Ottelo slowly down the side of his horse until both feet flopped onto the forest floor and his body hung in a slump against Benjamin.
“Has he…fainted, then?”
“I think so.” Benjamin dragged his lucid body a few feet from the horses, but close enough that he could still make out their forms in the mist. “Please do not trouble yourself,” Benjamin huffed, “I got him.”
Edward paid no mind as he rummaged around in a sack. Finding what he was looking for, he held the small bottle under Ottelo’s nose.
Still panting from carrying a grown man, Benjamin looked to Edward, the question of the bottle’s existence written on his face. Edward shrugged, a faint blush coming to his face. “Lady Kaelah.”
Ottelo swung his face from side to side, protesting the scent. They gave him a few seconds to orientate himself before asking what happened. Ottelo didn’t want to admit that he had been trying to do what was not permissible, indeed believed impossible. He did have a bit of success with it, didn’t he? Now, he found he could remember not much more than the image of the vex coming towards him with wrath. He knew throwing images of people in general was severely frowned upon and punishable if deemed misused for political or even personal gain. What would they think when he told them he tried to defy the confines of his gift to see an image of himself? Would they revel in the idea that maybe some confines of their own gift could be broken? Or would they shrink back in disbelief and distrust? He pushed the small bottle away from his face where Edward was still holding it.
“You are heavier than you look,” Benjamin said when he had finally caught his breath.
“Or you just need less time on a horse and more time holding a sword.” Benjamin shoved Edward over at the remark and searched Ottelo, who still hadn’t said anything, but stared at them with saucer eyes.
“Are you ok?” Benjamin leaned in to Ottelo’s face, searching his eyes for signs of what he felt.
“I would be better if I could not make out the hairs in your nostrils.” He hadn’t meant for it to seem so harsh, but the words came out with a hint of bitterness and he saw it reflected in Benjamin’s reaction.
“Right. Sorry,” Benjamin mumbled.
“Let’s see if we can get you up on your feet.” Edward made a move to help Ottelo up, but he shoved his hands away.
“I can get up by myself. I do not need a nurse-maid.” He managed to struggle up to his feet and brush off his pant legs, but when he went to stand all the way up, he felt a bit dizzy still. Edward would not give him the satisfaction of responding back to such an obvious disdain of help. Neither did he mention anything when Ottelo placed a hand on his shoulder to steady himself.
Benjamin watched this exchange with a peculiar curiosity, noting that something was indeed different about Ottelo. Distrust was not an emotion he had found amongst any of them since the first few days they were together on their journey and even then, it wasn’t a distrust that was earned, but one of the unknown. This that he felt from Ottelo was one of knowing and still distrusting, so somewhere, somehow, his thought processes had changed. Yavin had said to be careful. That all things were not as they appeared. Did Ottelo know that Yavin had revealed to him something he was keeping secret, Benjamin wondered? Or, perhaps it was the forest he distrusted, except that this emotion was new and they had been in the forest for long enough that it would have been an issue before now. No, Benjamin decided, this was distrust of him or Edward. Perhaps both. Since Pitney had gone missing. Edward did mention the lack of the Spirit of Blessing making them more suspicious of each other. Maybe Ottelo was experiencing this.
“Edward, perhaps we should be more diligent about calling out for Pitney as we travel? There is a good possibility that he is close without our knowing. We would not want the opportunity to find him to be lost simply out of neglect, would we?” Benjamin eyed his brother and wished he could invoke his emotions so Edward could understand them. And eyebrow raise would have to do. He hadn’t yet been able to tell Edward of what Yavin had said; there was more than one heir to the throne of Staas. He didn’t know if he actually believed it, but if he could find a moment to reason it through with Edward, he might be able to make sense of it.
“Yes, I suppose. Though one might consider, if he were near, he would also be calling out and we might hear- Yes. We should. Thank you, brother.” Edward caught himself from stating the obvious as he caught his brother’s eyes glare at him from under the brim of his hat.
Edward scratched his head. He was rather used to the shorter crop he adopted when he accepted Foresight, but as it grew to longer lengths, it became a nuisance to him.
“What I wouldn’t give for a shower,” he said, more to himself than anyone else.
In truth, Edward was pleased for the distraction that Ottelo’s mishap caused. He had been searching in the mist, using his gift fruitlessly, but unable to stop from at least trying. Normally, he would not have minded more practice, but something kept coming to his mind, haunting his thoughts, and making him leery of the use and of Chimera Forest, itself.
Years ago, Lady Kaelah had found an excerpt from an early Foresight user who claimed that the more he used his gifting, the harder it was to not want to become one with the shadow, itself. She had run into his chambers, face flushed, donning a new yellow gown that showed her initiation into the Order. It set off her auburn hair, uncoifed and trailing behind her.
“Look at this. You have to see what I found! I just knew they were hiding things from us.”
She had flung the parchment into his face, pointing to the script. Edward, who had just fallen to sleep for the evening, shook his head and rubbed his eyes. He tried to forget that she was in his chambers at all, much less at night. Haphazardly, he read something about Vex living within shadow. This they already knew, so he read the line again and realized he was really reading a firsthand account, not one of the reference books he had been given to study his gift.
The writer said the shadow beckoned to him and he found that the Spirit of Blessing and the pull to shadow were two diametrically opposing forces, begging him to choose a side. In the writing, the user did not name himself but called the shadow, Decay. He called the pull of both sides, the Point of Rending. So furious was the divide between the two forces that he claimed to have been lost in a sort of other world between the two, where darkness appeared as light until the light shone in the darkness and then all was lost in complete and total darkness. Then, he would evoke the gift to see. An inability to control the use of it made it so that the cycle went on and on. At one point, the author claimed to have wandered for days on end until someone with Hindering Touch happened upon him and brought him out of his misery.
“See? There are more things they know about your gift. The question is…why do they want to keep it secret from you?” Edward had looked into her shining green eyes so full of questions, and yet so full of honesty and the desire for truth. Her cheeks were round and still blushed from her rush to his room, the perfect sprinkling of freckles danced across her perfect nose. Her lips were a coral pink, slightly parted in a small smile…
And just like that, Edward closed off his mind to the memory. It still hurt to have lost her. They were barely even friends now, more like acquaintances. He missed their afternoon talks and their secret jokes they shared with just a glance. He had thought eventually, it would get easier, but she slowly became aloof and while he understood why, it continued to plague him that they could not be as they once were.
Then, and even now, as he recalled the entry, Edward tried to reason through it. Surely, these were just tales of the Elders meant to incite fear within anyone who would choose the gift they knew the least about? He could have easily believed this, if not for the warning that shot in his heart every time he found himself using Foresight without realizing it. With no shadow to be seen.
“Come. Let us continue.” Ottelo grabbed the horn of his saddle and began hoisting himself up. “This quest feels as if it is in vain, but as long as we are in this wretched place, we should do what we can to find this Belda.”
“Perhaps she knows where Pitney is?” Benjamin offered. Ottelo just shrugged and tugged on his reigns.
Edward remounted, but Benjamin took one last pull towards Ottelo. Indifference. Anger. Hopelessness. He stopped when he sensed someone else was near. A pull to his left.
He swung his body around, thinking Edward had doubled back Regal waiting for him, but no one was there.
Curiosity. From his right. Again he swung around.
“Benjamin?” Edward said.
Contempt. As if he was no longer searching for them, they came to him, as if they were being delivered to his mind. Like when Yavin let
And a block. Like the one Yavin made him push through.
“Edward!” Benjamin yelled just as his eyes met with two specks of orange. They penetrated the mist right before the black body of the vex rammed itself straight into Benjamin and sent his body flying into the mist beyond Edward’s sight.