There was a tickling sensation which grabbed her then – a lovely gripping coolness which sprayed giddy chills across every pore of her. She smiled, wanting almost to cry at the same time. The flooring felt soft and her toes curled to feel what it was made of – it seemed a mass of miniature cushioned fingers, each welcoming the weight and feel of her feet. Her legs moved through the coolness, her nose catching the weightless blips of spray as the water from the fountain’s center fell into the pool. It was dangerous here, an easy place to fall and not wake up. But she was here for a purpose.
Quickstepping to the center of the fountain, her toes digging into the fingered flooring beneath, she ducked into the cascade, her body covered by the raging water. Once inside, she grabbed onto the center column, from the feel, made entirely of marble. As grip-less as it was, she managed to pull herself up the high column, one step at a time, steadily going up the pillar. She was happy for the raging sound – up this close, she felt it was just herself and the water. This close she could near nothing but the water’s raging speed as it welcomed her to be a part of it.
Yet, she knew they were there on the outside and she knew that they were coming for her. The raging water as peaceful and comforting as it may have been, was not going to simply keep them out. Steadily, one step at a time, she climbed. As there were branches which came out of the center shaft of the pillar of the fountain, so there were also some handholds, areas for her fingers, at least for some time.
Some of the water came in droplets which seemed to pepper her cheeks as she climbed and there was the other water falls of the water which came at all times, cascades of it, endless pours as she climbed. Several times after areas of solid footing, she would have to turn her head to catch her breath. It was on one those times that she happened to notice two things. First, how high above the ground she had climbed (and not even made it have way up the spire). Second, that there was a darker cloud of insidiousness which was rolling toward her. Sand dogs. Another deep breathe, and she turned her attention back to her climb.
Once out of an area of high water, she looked up again, The sky was blue, just as she had remembered when she was running up to the fountain – out of breath and with pained heels digging into the sand. Beyond the highest point of the spire a small glow found her eyes.
“Cruan!” She muttered to herself. It is in the light of Cruan that you’ll need to make the pull. She had never meant to count how many time Alaster’s voice had come to her. It was almost as if he had never died.
It was a giddiness that she felt which helped her jump up to the next step of the the long central pillar. She could see the next handhold clearly. In the cool water of the falls she left her footing with a smile. Whether she wore that same smile on her face was something no one would ever have been able to say.
And it was when she felt herself leave, that she slipped.
It was her footing, or the water, or the thought of almost making it all the way to her goal, to the place where Alaster and the team had placed all of their training and faith. Even in the small seconds that passed that told her she was going up, she felt herself falling.
On the descent, she had somehow made herself face downward – if not to see them coming, to see where she would fall and die.. One of her first thoughts was more of a wonder than anything else. Will it be in the water? The water was there below her, certainly, but her body wasn’t entirely over it.
She yelled, and did nothing. There were too many thoughts in her to do anything else. Eve the thought of berating herself for the pride of the jump was lost in the sea of the other thoughts. No clawing; no cursing at herself, no saying good-byes. Last time. I won’t reboot after this. None. Nothing. Of anything. All that was there and all that came from her at that time was as cream. It was all that she could think of – all of her thoughts combined into this one sound. Not even one for help or anger. It was simply the only thing that her body knew how to do.
Before she hit, her eyes took in the black mass that was the army of Sand Dogs, the hunters – those who had been sent after her – her the traitor, the runaway. She couldn’t be upset with them; they had been given their orders and it was something she could understand. No. She wasn’t upset with them.
She closed her eyes before she landed.
All she felt was the force of the ground, half mixed with the ledge of the fountain’s water basin, crack into her.
“Take her!” The voice of the rider from somewhere in the back, commanded the high energy of the esurient animals.
Pain fled through her system; it would have been easy to say that it was something she was used to. She had been through a series of varying degrees of pain in her lives. Death was always easier. Somehow, in as many times as she had done this, it just wasn’t anything she was used to. The ground rippled through her and the voice in her wanted to scream just as she had done when she was several tens of feet in the air several seconds ago. But, it wasn’t there – on the outside at least.
The current of the pain staggered its way through her limbs and rattled ;her bones and it rippled through the small several cubic meters of ground that she covered in her fall.
“Decode!” His yell came to her then and there and it was as though he was coming closer. She was surprised she could hear his yelling commands over the wild beasts as they came upon her. It was just as she had expected after slipping form the top, well nearly the top of the spire. She was right there, and after all of her lives, this was how it was going to end.
The dogs individually were unsightly. Vermin which had no qualities of civility. Their coats were disheveled and matted for the most part. They subsisted on carrion or smaller creatures in the sand. Their snouts were malformed almost all of the time, and with their lips hanging down only halfway to the bottom of their chins. Their gross teeth were always exposed and no part of them where white; the color of them had decayed with their diet of feeding on the dead and the exposure to the air and the sand. She remembered at one point wondering why the grains of sand never whitened their or at least made them softer. These were the thoughts she had they came upon her.
Like an untamed virus, they came on her to feed.
“Decode and dismember!” The voice of the hunter was softer now, somewhere off in the distance. She could feel their warmth, and their snouts rubbed upon her with a coolness. It was the entirety of the pack at once. All of them, seemingly came to feed on her. It seemed unlikely that it would be all of them; there were thousands. Only the first who got there would be able to take her. If there was any of there left over within a few seconds, it wouldn’t be much.
Pain. Her back groaned and, with her own cognizance, she realized that she could feel nothing from her legs down. Her eyes only caught colors here.
The dogs’ snouts were more now; they growled and shredded the clothing from her body. It wasn’t much to work with, however. Her body never had enough meat to give.
Her blouse, the white snap-on, and her shorts were ripped from her person. The snouts of the animals continued to sniff her and the sounds became to get softer a bit and there were more growling from the three around her body. Pain.
She prepared as best she could for the pain. This would be the last time.
She watched the clothes leave her body as she let go. She saw something odd as they left her vision, there was a spot there – in the shorts. A green lovely circular spot.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.
“Tourmaline,” she smiled. There was no pain, and her questions were answered. There was no pain because there would be no pain. The drug. Left in her back pocket had shattered upon the drop.
Her eyes fluttered and watched as the dogs walked away. They walked away slowly against the yells of confusion and discontent of their master.
“Get the code, NOW!” he yelled. “Rip it from her! No! No! What are you doing?”
Constance turned her head (no pain) and saw him in the background. She saw him there way off in the distance. He was there in black with dust swirling around him. His image swirled and rolled with the hazy distance as his limbs jerked wildly. The dogs were growing farther and farther away from her. They steadily walked from her, panting. They had run so far and with so much energy that they seemed to feel they had all met their objective. It was though they had crossed the finish line, had their fill of whatever treat, and decided to head back. They had dropped her clothing just feet from her. No longer interested
In the distance, the dog master had given up yelling his whips and his orders. He decided to run toward her.
Her neck had not hurt when she turned it. The drug. Tourmaline.
Constance smiled and lifted her head before pushing herself up on one elbow. She looked in the distance after a quick rub of her eyes. She felt her breast softly dip down and rub against her upper stomach . The man was coming toward her wildly and with a knife drawn. The blade flashing with each cycle it completed in his hand. Her nakedness felt good then. There was a sun in the sky – a large golden globe, and a cool wind found her cheeks.
She lifted herself to her feet and for the first time again heard the water. She turned back to see what she could still see, where she should have been buried had she not stuck the vial in her pocket. The water fell as though a tipped flower vase from the heavens, emptying upon the dry land in endless drips, showers and hails. She stood there looking at the pool at first, the stem which she tried to climb. She noticed where she was when she fell. Almost made it. She needed to finish her task.
There was blood of course. Her soft skin on the back side had been cushioned by the hard sand and punctured by the titanium vile. How can titanium break? She was glad it did.
“AAAhhh!” The man was behind her, but everything happened slowly form that point. Everything was slow; time was all hears. She was becoming more powerful; she felt it. It was inconsequential to watch the man or to worry. Facing away from him, she could almost see him.
She focused on the water. His hand was raised above him, the knife high pointing down. There was a glint upon the blade that no human eyes would ever notice. It was a shame as it was very pretty. It came down, but only fell half way before the man was taking down by jaws by the thousands. His own pack. Their growls were just as heightened and powered as they had been when digging into her the first time.
There was a clank at her feet and she looked down seeing the knife, just as it was supposed to be – for her taking.
“Thank you,” she said and walked again into the pool in front of her as the echoes of his screams were lost in the raging of the waterfalls. She stepped in the water and focused on her steps. On the water, on the cushioned flooring of the pool. This was the whole of the last vial of Tourmaline. In her mind she knew the dogs were behind her, all of them. Sand dogs. She did not have to look at them or for them. They were quiet now, the ones in the front, eight of them or so, were stained with the neck blood of the man they had before then obeyed. She walked on the floor; she twirled. The knife in her hand gleamed with more of a magic than it had seen ever, more than they had seen in years.
When she was ready, she returned to the spire and climbed. The army of sand dogs sat and watched.
Up through the raging of the water she climbed. This time taking her time. The coolness of the water, the splashes, the dumps, the sprinkles, the sprays, all of it, the entire ocean of the water of her childhood fairy tales; she wanted all of it. Yet, she did not dither here. The drug was in her inner self. She was the last one to use it. She was the last one to have snapped the vial.
Open the vile over the Cruan, and bring then the green to feed the land.
“Yes, Alaster,” she said, water filling her mouth, her pores, her face and all of her. Her hair was the wettest it had been. She shook her hair and answered. “I will do as you say, just as you have taught me. This is the last of it, you know.” She climbed farther upward and as she climbed, she rotated her body around the spire of the fountain in the middle of the desert. A quick glance at the army of those below. They had all sat eager for something. For her to return?
The water pouring of the fountain lessened as she got higher and as she gained more ground. This was the time. At the end of the spire, she found two perfectly wide and flat points for her to stand upon.
The Cruan. Its surface… just the surface had filled her head with all manner of childhood stories and questions. She pulled herself to a standing position.
“I’m here, Alaster,” she said.
For a moment – the only moment she would have here, she took a breath and straightened to look up and about the land.
The desert. She began from the backs of the sand dogs and followed it back. In the distance far off, beyond far, she saw the thick grey walls of the Institution. The ominous place where they told her that her parents didn’t want her, where they told her the existence she led was nothing – that she was nothing.
That was enough. Again she looked around once more before getting back to the task.
She held her wrist over the top of the spire, the Cruan. Before she began to cut, she looked around the top of the pillar for the halo, the glow. Nothing. No, it’s here. Of course it’s here.
She held her free wrist above the top of the Cruan and cut with the blade. Blood, dark and thick, moved as though it had just been awoken form a long slumber. It dripped down the last mote of skin and fell through the air to the top of the pillar. One drop, then two, then fifteen, a stream of blood.
The structure began to shake and a pulse of light lit the entire structure. Once. Again two, three times.
Constance cut herself again twice more, the tears in her eyes were blurring her vision.
The blood ran from her in heavy streams and the top of the pillar was covered. Her footing began to weaken and she saw chunks of the pillar fall away from the main and into the water below. What was standing in its place was a patch of light burning more brightly than the sun in the sky. Patches and patches they fell from it, more and more and quicker and quicker. They fell. As her footing gave way and the placeholders for her feet fell into the water below, Constance jumped to the hold on to the top of the spire.
The heat shook and seared her. Her eyes, her skin, her spirit burned from within. The structure shook more and more violently and from within the voice came to her.
AAhh, I thank you. Here is were it begins. Here and now.
Constance did not scream with the pillar of the fountain exploded outward in a far-reaching burst of white light.
It rocketed across the sand dogs, the desert whole and for leagues afterward in every direction. Every mote of life of every plane where the light touched was burned and changed from whatever it’s color was to a n easy meditative sort of brown. And then there was quiet and the light died down, easing itself from its reach into the sky, in competition with the sun, and it pulled back from its tracts along the desert.
The sun dogs were quietly decimated below; they went without disagreement. It was her they were following; her, the keeper of the drug.
When the light slowly pulled all of its reaching fingers from all places anid reverted into itself, it crumbled.
There was no water, no fountain, no life. Nothing remained. Nothing yet.
Somewhere else, somewhere behind the veil which separates this world from the next a long-white haired man looked at the spot where the Tower had lain. His eyes, blue and silver, surveyed the image. He nodded and recovered his tea and saucer from the table at his front.
“Good,” Alaster said. “You’ve done well, child.” He lifted the cup to take a sip. China, it was called somewhere else. She had heard it before. “Green will be restored and the good civilizations will be back here in a few millennia. That’s sadly what happens when you incur an Ice-Age in the middle of history – especially one they’re not ready for.”
“I just want to keep going,” Constance said.
“What do you mean?” Alaster said, his loose white robe folding with predictable movements as he walked She was used to his walk.
“I mean I want to be somewhere else. Another planet, another time. Something.”
He set his teat down and gave her a pat on the knee. “Well, I for one, am very happy to have you back, I’ll have you know.”
She smiled. “Thanks, Alaster.”
“You were always good at listening.” He smiled back. “Now cheer up. I happen do have a new destination for you. But first, supper. We’ll speak after that. Oh, and Constance.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Mmm?”
“May I suggest that we not involve ourselves in drugs on this next run?”
“I wasn’t supposed to be brought back in the first place; seems like drugs are working out perfectly for me.”
He nodded. “Your point, although taken, is irrelevant. You drugging yourself accidentally doesn’t really count. Yes, the drug gave you another life, but ~”
“Nope,” she said, “no ‘buts’. I’m here, and if drugs keep me alive, I will do it. Now, supper please.”
Alaster nodded and continued forward. “As stubborn as your mother. Come, come.” He moved through the doors and let it slam behind him.
Constance stared at the screen for a few more seconds. The brown hold where the fountain stood, the fountain she had climbed. She turned the screen off and followed the man. Tourmaline in her blood.