Times to Come Now Gone
“Wait, he’s coming around.”
Erik Whoticore’s eyes opened to the welcoming sight of his bedroom ceiling. Taking in the room, he confirmed he was indeed back home, the knowledge calming his rapidly beating heart. He tried to rise, but his arms were shaking too bad and he fell back to the bed, feeling as if he were still suffering from the stress of having been in a place no one could survive.
Groaning, he turned onto his side where he saw his wife sitting in a chair next to the bed. Narik was coming around to stand beside her, worry etched into his features.
Sari smoothed her husband’s hair down, shaking her head. “Silly male,” she gently chided. “That was not a wise thing to do. Now you know why I seek isolation when communing with the goddess.”
“Agreed,” he nodded. “I will not be doing that – “ he said as he glanced down at his arm. Someone had taken his shirt off and gotten him more comfortable, which meant he had no top on. It gave him a clear view of the symbol picked out in raised relief in his flesh on the inside of his arm just below his left wrist.
He yelped, jerking back, feeling panic set in all over again. Bunching up the covers in his other hand, he backpedaled on the bed, desperate to get away from the reminder of what he had thought was only a bad dream.
“Erik, calm down!” Narik shot out, grabbing his brother so he didn’t fall off the other side of the bed.
“No…NO! It was just a dream!” Erik gasped, shaking. “I wasn’t really there!”
“You haven’t been anywhere,” Narik assured him. “You blacked out and once Sari came out of the trance, we brought you here.”
It took a moment for his brother’s statement to sink in, a long moment in which he thought he could still faintly hear the mournful, desolate wail of the hot winds over a dead world. He swallowed heavily several times and tried to close his eyes against the evil sigil burned into his flesh.
He closed them only once, they flying open again as he gasped, his heart pounding painfully.
Eventually, Erik let his brother draw him back to the center of the bed. He sat up, not taking his eyes off the mark and shaking his head in disbelief. Sari added more pillows so he could sit up. “You’re trembling all over, brother,” Narik turned his Erik’s wrist towards him so he could see what had the house head so scared. “What is that?” he began to ask, but then the light streaming in from the sunset caused it to glow a sickly red, then yellow as he angled Erik’s arm. His eyes widened in recognition and revulsion. “Wait, is that – “
Erik nodded. “Plainsville,” he muttered, looking up at Narik, whose expression changed to confusion. The house head looked to his wife. “Did you see…” he asked, trailing off, closing his eyes, as if that would do any good shutting out what he had been witness to.
“No, husband,” she shook her head. “But I did experience your emotions, heard what you heard.”
“Why show me that horrible place?” Erik asked, accepting the glass of water she gave him, gulping it down.
Sari refilled the glass, then sat on the edge of the bed. “The vision was meant for me. You got caught, as they say, in the crossfire.”
The elder Whoticore digested that. “Vision? It made no sense. It cannot be the future.”
“I saw Jim Solare – alive. It can’t be the future. He’s dead.”
The Priestess of Whocate thought over his words. She too had heard the Solaran’s voice – and her own, in the audio of her mate’s vision. It had shaken her more than she cared to admit. “Perhaps the goddess is dreaming and this was a possible outcome of things to come in a future never to be born,” the priestess theorized.
Narik laid a hand on Erik’s arm. “What did you see there?”
“Nothing I want to ever see again,” he told him, then hesitantly launched into the details of the vision, which was still so clear in his mind it refused to leave him. And though he was afraid retelling it would bring back the powerful emotions that had overwhelmed him several times while in its grip, it actually began to calm him to share the strange, oftentimes horrible experience.
At its end, It was his brother’s turn to shake his head. “Glad it wasn’t me that saw that. I would have freaked for sure.”
“No worse than I,” Erik swallowed, gesturing for more water. The place had left an echo of desperate thirst in his physical body that could not seem to be quenched. Longing to distract himself from what he had been through further by attempting to make sense of the vision, he added. “That was the second time the symbol of the ouroboros was mentioned. I can still see it imprinted on the inside of my closed eyelid.”
“Eyelid? Not both?” Narik asked.
“The other is this.” he looked down, but gulped, feeling bile rise in his throat at the sight of the evil sigil and turned away, eyes wide and refusing to close again.
“Jim Solare’s last words to us were, ‘the ouroboros broke’,” Sari nodded. “And you saw it as such quite clearly.”
“Is that what happened in Plainsville?” Narik wondered aloud. “The cycle of life broke? Is that why nothing can live there now?”
“It would be a most powerful way of conveying to us how thoroughly & irrevocably it was interrupted, yes,” the priestess agreed. “A way in which Whocate could impart the message in a way we could never misinterpret.” She caught Erik’s curious look. “Since she is a primal deity, she can only communicate in those symbols as ancient as herself, symbols that our subconscious would instinctively know, no matter what language we use to communicate with in our world.”
Her brother-in-law nodded. “Makes sense.” He paused then added. “But we already know there’s something unnaturally deadly about Plainsville, that life will never exist there again. Why tell us?”
“A warning about Serena Solare’s pregnancy, perhaps,” Erik offered thoughtfully, looking off into the distance. His gaze shifted to his wife. “You said in the vision the infant did not make it.”
“But then you saw her alive, as an adult, asking you for help,” Narik added. “Does she live or die? Which future is it?”
“I dearly wish we knew,” sighed Erik. He set the glass back on the nightstand. “Sari, do you think Whocate was validating what Jim Solare urged of you? That you must midwife the child’s birth? That her survival depends on us?”
“That would be a logical assumption,” she agreed. “The child died, yet was there, alive in adult form, warning us.”
“And what the hell does all this have to do with Plainsville?” Narik grimaced.
Erik began to relax, his thoughts turning to the future. “We must consider the child and mother’s welfare at this point. She is not due for many months. There is time to introduce her to Sari, take stock of Miss Solare’s ability to provide for the child, intervene if necessary to assist to that end.” He looked to his brother. “You and I have much to do after father’s funeral, brother.”
Hours ago, at the statue of Whocate…
“S – Serena?”
Young Jim stared into the smooth, marble face of the living statue before his startled eyes. It couldn’t be his daughter…it just COULDN’T BE. He turned to glance at the Whoticore males and Sarlayna, who exchanged looks over their prone, crossed-armed positions kneeling before the statue of Whocate. They froze where they were.
Hesitantly Jim tested his legs. They were more or less functional enough now. He rose, shaking, to his feet, gaze locked back upon the statue that still rotated before him.
Overwhelmed by the uncanny similarity in appearance of this improbable statue to his living daughter, Young Jim felt tears spill over, onto his cheeks, resisting the urge to go to it and stroke its cheek. “My little one, my darling little Sunbeam, I – I failed you! I couldn’t keep you safe.”
Her silence, even though he knew he was talking to a statue, seemed to damn him. “I had to try, Serena,” he pleaded. “You’re the only one our family has left – I have left. The only one not tainted by our wretchedness. You were our golden sunlight, the only thing I had left to protect!” he wailed, breaking down to the hard, stone-worked ground, sobbing.
After a moment, the shimmer of light above his prone form caught his attention.
He looked up. The three large dragonflies had taken on a new, altered appearance, the aura of light around them having expanded to taller, human-shaped figures. He stared, fascinated as they moved away from their goddess. It was then he noticed his human captors had disappeared. In their place were three smaller, darting orbs of light shaped like dragonflies of a size more normal in the human realm.
Before it could occur to Young Jim to take the opportunity to escape, the statue gestured to her ethereal servants. They floated down from their protective orbit around their queen, obeying her will. Their auras extended into the shapes of human hands, extending to the two smaller dragonflies, which took the invitation to light upon them. A moment later the insects flew away, leaving something of a shimmering, aural essence behind composed of black shot through with luminescent purple.
Whocate’s dragonfly servants then turned towards Jim.
“Uh…no,” he said, raising a hand, backpedaling. “Stay away,” he warned them, not trusting anything to do with the Goddess of Death. They appeared to understand him and turned back to the statue, returning to her company, resuming their dance around her.
The statue of Whocate, still floating serenely in their midst, rotating counterclockwise, stopped when it came to once again facing Jim. It/she lifted her arm, elbow bent, hand upturned. The dragonfly servants landed one at a time upon the upturned marble hand and gave up the energies they had collected. Jim tracked the movement as they floated away, job apparently done, resuming their positions on either side of her.
She then extended the hand to him not holding the gathered energies, but the human, suspicious of anything having to do with her or her darker relatives, still refused to go near her.
Though the statue never spoke, Jim got the distinct impression it was not understanding why he wouldn’t let her near him. He sensed confusion and some curiosity as it stepped lightly from its dais, down to the stonework encircling her normal resting place.
As before, Young Jim backed away. “Look, I don’t know what you want from me. Just stay away!”
The figure drew her hand back and stopped, cocking her head.
“I don’t understand, dad. How could you?” a woman sobbed.
“What?” Jim blinked and was suddenly on a stone bridge overlooking a river. The surroundings were bathed in the light of sunset. He barely had time to register the surroundings or where he was when the woman’s voice had dragged his attention away.
It was his daughter, Serena. She didn’t look well, leaning heavily against the railing, being supported on her other side by the Whoticore witch, Sarlayna. Serena was far along in her pregnancy, so heavy she looked nearly ready to give birth. The accompanying priestess was outlined in a black aura shot through with purple highlights brighter than the small dragonfly’s aura he had seen a moment ago. Serena’s belly was also glowing black, but glittered with bright blue highlights.
Feeling something in his hand, Jim looked down to find a satchel of herbs, some of which was scattered around him and the two women. As he lifted it to smell what it was, he saw he was handcuffed. What he caught of the scent of the herb was unfamiliar but evil, leaving an unmistakable warning of a deadly poison in his mind.
An officer he recognized as Officer Callihan from the Moonville police department turned him away from the women, preparing to drag him off to jail, but when they completed the turn, the officer disappeared and Jim was now standing on the same bridge at night, at the edge of the railing.
In front of him was a young girl he had never seen before. She had long, dark hair, pale, smooth skin and was dressed in all black with a black cloak lined in shimmering, electric blue. She wore a crown of silver with his house seal of the triple dragonfly upon it. She had Serena’s high cheekbones, the slight slant of her eyes but also the jawline and brows of Lord Loki Whoticore. Her eyes were black, like the Whoticore males, with a white outer edge ringing them. Like the statue, she cocked her head at Jim in curiosity.
Handcuffs gone, Jim opened his hand to find the herb was still there. He stared at it, getting the impression he had just made a horrible mistake in attempting to use it in the earlier vision. The girl plucked some of the deadly herbs from his hand and, looking him defiantly in the eye, intentionally put the poisonous plant in her mouth, swallowing it, then licking her lips. She turned and walked away.
Jim blinked and was back in the Whoticore mansion’s garden before the statue of Whocate. The vision/hallucination had been emotionally draining, leaving him in a cold sweat of confusion and fear tinged with panic.
In another blink, the statue shimmered into the unmistakable appearance of his daughter Serena, in the flesh. Her eyes conveyed the words he had heard her say on the bridge all too clearly.
I don’t understand, dad. How could you?
She turned her back to him without a word. He tried to move forward, but his legs felt weak and unresponsive, barely able to keep him aloft. “Serena, I – I don’t understand what’s going on. Tell me!” he pleaded.
The woman returned to the pedestal and laid a hand over her abdomen in the position of her womb, transferring the energy gathered from the Whoticore males. Jim watched as it was absorbed, his gaze traveling back to her eyes, which were now completely black. The statue resumed its original position, fading into pale gray, changing back into marble.
“Serena? Serena!” Jim ran up to the statue. His hands contacted the cold marble of her slender feet as the life faded from her features. “Don’t leave me here!”
His gaze shifted to the three human-shaped dragonflies surrounding her. They returned to their normal appearance as mere insects, though still larger than normal. The nighttime air regained a chill he had not previously realized had left during his vision.
A feeling of movement behind him made him turn. The other dragonflies were gone, but the three humans of House Whoticore had returned, still frozen in place, but were now standing in a different position, as if they had moved, then frozen in place again.
“Was this your doing?” he asked angrily, going up to Erik Whoticore, looking into his mostly black, unseeing eyes. “Where is my daughter?!” Frustrated, he turned back to the statue of Whocate. It remained mute, unmoving, the feeling of life not even present in any way about it.
She wasn’t here. She couldn’t have been. His rational mind reminded him. You have to get out of here!
Certain they would kill him once his captors regained their mobility, Jim backed away, his mind awhirl as to how he could escape. He had to find a way, get to Westwind, protect his daughter. There was nothing more he could do here and every indication his life was forfeit if he stayed. Stumbling away, through the garden, he forced his attention away from the bizarre events he had been a part of to new thoughts of survival.