General Disclaimers: While it features no ‘on-screen’ sexual activity or explicit adult situations, this hypnofetish story does contain examples of fictional characters doing illegal, immoral and/or impossible things to other fictional characters. If you are under the age of consent in your community, are disturbed by such concepts, or want graphic sex in your pornography, then for goshsakes stop reading now!
Permission granted to re-post for free to any electronic medium, as long as no one's being charged to view it, and this disclaimer and e-mail address (email@example.com) are not removed. It would also be nice if you told me you were posting it.
Copyright Voyer, 2000.
Specific Disclaimers: Set in the same universe at ‘Shades of Night Are Falling’, ‘Cut Off’, et al, and you should really read them first.
Dedicated to Gila Golan.
The clouds were gray and low, and the late afternoon rain battered sketchily against the etched windows. Beyond the windows, beyond the overgrown garden and the shifting trees, the cemetery was dark and still, awaiting the arrival of night. An abandoned tent-awning from a funeral flapped in the breeze.
Inside the windows, the tall clock forever ticked, and the piled logs never grew smaller in the wide fireplace.
Nevertheless, things changed. The room’s door opened and Lorelei appeared in a single golden flicker, silent and bright-eyed, placing one careful foot in front of the other amidst the tangle of sleeping vipers on the carpet. The door swung shut behind her, and she reached into the feathers of her chest. When her hand re-emerged it was holding a black object which, like the giant cage which loomed beside the door, seemed to somehow swallow the light from the fire.
It was a long iron key, on the end of a silver chain which looped around her neck.She turned to the cage and she slipped the key into the structure’s waiting lock, which gaped like a hungry mouth. The cage door creaked open with a theatrical squeal.
Lorelei entered the cage and for a second time a door swung shut behind her, its lock clicking loudly. The key disappeared back into her feathers, a conjuring trick performed by a magician. She carefully smoothed the feathers back into place with the palm of her hand.
The swing inside the cage was waiting for her, and she delicately hipped her way into position on the hard iron bar. She wafted gently back and forth for a time, studying the polished wooden beams of the ceiling, before she finally spoke, musing. Her voice was a glittering collection of things, beautiful and polished but very sharp.
“I dreamed last night.”
Black did not reply. He sat in his high-backed chair near the fireplace and there was a woman there with him, draped bonelessly over the wide padded arms of the chair, so that her half-naked body was face down, and at neat right-angles across his narrow lap. Her bare arms and legs dangled limply, and her head was hidden by a healthy spill of hair which reached down towards the snakes, a jet-black waterfall that vanished into nothingness. He was slowly tracing his tapered fingertips across the exposed skin of her back, the expression behind his small glasses very intense.
Under his probing there sprawled the single blemish on her smooth pale skin: a tattoo, wild and elaborate and multi-layered, with endless loops and whirls of gaudy shifting color, a screaming raptor with spread wings, a maze, line after line of interlaced gibberish-calligraphy. As he reached certain junctions of color on her skin, the woman trembled violently, all over, then was still again. Very still.
Lorelei tipped her head back and to the side, looking at the two other people out of the corner of her eye. She smiled widely; her smile matched her voice, particularly in the firelight.
“It was an interesting dream.”
At this he closed his eyes as if stabbed by a sudden pain. Finally he opened them, sighed and leaned back in the chair, seeming to crumple just a little for a moment. His fingers continued to drift across warm skin, more aimless and appreciative now. He stared at the thin colorless flames flickering in the fireplace.
“I see.” He tapped the tattooed woman with a single forefinger, up on the knob where her slender neck connected with her shoulders. “Wake up, Miko.”
She shuddered, and her head snapped up. From behind the forest of hair still spilling over her face, she stared for a long moment at the carved white lamp standing nearby. The face of the figure which made up the lamp closely mirrored her features, but once the confusion cleared from her eyes, the two expressions were polar opposites. Her attention shifted to the man above her in the chair, and her dark eyes narrowed even further.
“You.” She spat the word, and her hands turned into poison-tipped claws. “What have you done, worm? When the clanfathers are told of your atrocity, they-”
He sighed again, and he tapped her again, in the same place as before. Her words cut off and she flopped back over, a puppet whose strings have been abruptly cut. He gently scooped her up in his arms, effortlessly rose and carried her to the wide plush cushion which sat empty in front of the fireplace. Lowered into position, her body curled itself up on the cushion and once again she was still. He returned to the chair and resumed his seat. He put away his glasses, rubbing the narrow bridge of his nose for a moment. He took up a pipe from the stand beside the chair and began tamping in tobacco from one of several handy pouches.
“Your interesting dream.” A bit of flame flickered in between his fingers and smoke began to rise from the pipe, thin and cloying, mixing with the scent of the flowers in the vases.
Lorelei said nothing for a long moment, once again studying the ceiling. Then...
“I woke up. In the dream. That was the beginning and the end of it all. But then on the other hand I didn’t. In the dream, I was never awake. Never awake and never asleep. All I ever did was hover somewhere between the two...” She wiggled five of the deadly things which forever waited on the ends of her hands. “Suspended. Stretched. Vivisection.” Her voice lingered on the last word, drawing out the syllables. “Down there, in the light between the mirrors.”
“Mirrors?” For the first time, he glanced at her, his gaze sharp.
“Yes.” Back and forth she swung, matching her words to her movements. “Mirrors and mirrors and more mirrors, shining under the lights, all around me in the tube to which I had been assigned for non-function time. All shiny and polished and reflecting absolutely nothing. Then the non-function time was over, and I opened my eyes and got up, sliding out of the tube, out into the long long hallway with all of the other units.”
“Yes. There were so many of us there. All different. All alike.” Another smile, knowing this time. “Much as it is in other places. Only more so. All carried to the ultimate degree and marching in tightest lockstep. Some of us entered the tubes, some of us left the tubes. Those that left went to prepare for the day, ghosting silently past the mirrors, through the mist which swirled around us, around our bare feet and ankles, nosebleed-thin and sweet and sick. There was a sound, beyond the hum of the tainted air being eternally moved from place to place. An endless thud.... thud... and thud... the firefather hammering on his anvil, the beating of a great corroded heart...”
“Or perhaps a clock.” His voice was dry.
“Yess...” She twisted the chains which held her, then spun straight. “I suppose that was what it most resembled. A great clock, ticking back and forth, on and on forever somewhere behind the walls, down under the floor, coming up through the soles of our feet, soothing... and jangling... all at once. And the lights pulsed in time to it, ever so subliminally. We listened to the clock, and we scrubbed ourselves clean and we went to breakfast, although we did not call it breakfast. We did not call it anything at all. Nothing and no one had names, except for the mirrors, and what was behind the mirrors, in the lights and the tick of the clock. The lights which pulsed and flashed but never ever went out, even when we went up out of the hole.”
“Oh, yes. All of this was down and down, buried under the earth and the stones and the miles of wire, in a hole. Very wide and deep and filled with mirrors. Millions of mirrors...”
“How did you come to be in the hole?”
“It came only in flickers. Half remembered, half forgotten. All unimportant. There had been another life before this one. Out under the sun and the moon.” She looked wistful for a moment, an expression which did at all fit on her face. “It had been so long ago. Worlds had come and gone. The sky-lights had been eaten, especially the sun, eaten long ago by seas of corroding acid. I had been out there, up out of the hole, going to school, going on outings with boys and then with boys who were slowly turning into men. My father had instructed me in the mysteries of driving a car. We used a small yellow vehicle with a crumpled left fender.” She released the chains for a moment, curled her hands as if she was holding an invisible steering wheel. “I spent time in a place with many large trees and red brick buildings thickly covered with green ivy. A college of some kind, one would suppose?” She raised her feathered eyebrows.
“One would suppose.”
“Then I met him. Somewhere. At the college? Perhaps perhaps.” She wrapped her arms around herself, still swinging, and she crooned sweetly, wordlessly for a moment. “Trapped down in the mirrors, I no longer remembered his name, or what he looked like. But he had been there, and I had loved him. We arranged to be married and to breed. Have little ones to foster and to teach to be brave and strong. To fly high.”
“That is generally the purpose of marriage.”
“But then... something terrible happened. The shadow came to me, fell over me. The last shadow I was to ever see. It was black and terrible, and it sat behind a wide desk, high up above the world, looking out over the domains it ruled. I was summoned to see it, and I was proud and... frightened.” Lorelei rolled contemptuous eyes at the last word. “I had been toiling long and hard for this day, but I had also begun to hear... rumors. The usual whispers that breed in the presence of such shadows. Then I met this particular shadow, the one who lives forever in the high place, among the glass and the steel, and I learned of course that the rumors were all true, every last one of them, and they only scratched the surface. He talked to me, looked into my eyes, and I learned it all once, and I was thrust down, down into the hole and surrounded by the mirrors. They ate my soul, and the lights and the tick... tick... tick... of the great clock poured into me in its place, poured in from all directions.”
“No more shadows.”
“Yes. Not a one. And so time passed, and time came forever to a halt, as it has been known to do. I functioned. I obeyed. I was pulled deeper and deeper into the lights. I did things, and I forgot about doing them, even as I was in the midst of them. Sometimes I was sent up out of the hole, to do things. Just awful things, some of them.” She licked a talon with a pointed tongue. “I remember after doing one of these things...”
“I came back to myself, as much as a unit ever does, and I was kneeling on a hard cool floor, in a room down in the hole, among the mirrors. The lights burned around us, even brighter than was normal, pulsing and throbbing. The mist was stronger as well, swirling around us, almost hiding the floor. The thud... thud... thud... of the great clock was now like thunderclaps, one on top of the other. The room shook. There were units there with me, two of them, side by side by side. One of them was dark, very dark, her foremothers burned black by the forgotten sun, and the other was Lacy.”
“Who?” Another sharp glance, and he frowned, an expression which cut deep lines in his angled face.
“Lacy.” She gestured impatiently. “That woman who is to become Andrea’s...” She hesitated in mid-gesture, and rewound things behind her eyes. “But no and no again. Lacy hasn’t entered the story yet, has she? And this wasn’t her at all. They merely look much alike, they almost could be meant to be sisters. Tall and slender, with long red hair. Fairy princess hair, such as Nana used to tell of.” She touched her own head, a sleek well-shaped thing which would never feature hair, long or otherwise. “She was there, in the middle of the row, between the black woman and myself, and she was holding something in her arms. I looked down at it as best as I could; I could not move my head, only my eyes, very slowly. She held a wide metal bowl, like the floor very cool and slick and filled with something, or perhaps several somethings all jumbled messily together. The bowl and its details were quite clear, but whatever it contained was blurry and fuzzy. I was not allowed to see what it was. There appeared to be yellow and green there, and possibly other colors as well...” She gave a dismissive flick and went on.
“I looked away. We three were alone in a room, which had never happened before. There were always many units together, seeing the endless reflections in each other’s eyes, pulling each other deeper into the mirrors, all the time... There were mirrors on the walls, as always, and on the ceiling, and between the mirrors there were two doors, two that I could see at least. The first was somewhat ordinary, a closed metal rectangle with no handle, painted silver and gray. The second, ah the second...” She tilted even further back in her perch, kicking her deceptively soft legs into the air. “That was the important one. It was on the east side of the room, a massive thing, circular and glittering and deeply polished.” She traced the shape with both of her hands as she swung. “Mirrors and mirrors. On the planes, on the angles and wrapped around the thick spokes. Polished daily with soft little brushes and soft wet tongues and hard bottles of clearest water. And in the very center, on the hub, there was a shape. One of the Symbols.”
“The usual, I suppose?” He sketched a twisted formation in the air, tying the smoke from his pipe into fragile short-lived knots.
“Yes yes.” She absently glanced at the unraveling shape he had sculpted. “But etched there in purple and red, deep in a crack. The first red and purple I had seen in so very long. Everything else down in the mirrors and the lights was cool and hard and cold, filled with glittering angles. I stared at the door, at the Symbol, which I did not know, which I had not seen before that moment, and the delicious fearlust came to me, burning and soothing. It took everything I had left to turn my gaze away, looking for anything else, trying to think about anything else. Finally I found it.”
“Really?” Genuine surprise colored his voice as he waved away the last of the smoke. “What could she... you... possibly have found?”
“Physical pain. My left side had been damaged. Although I cannot be sure, I believe I had somehow bruised some ribs, and I had other minor injuries. And I was splattered with something, wet and sticky before, drying now, and I was... tired. But I was never tired. I was never awake. I was exhausted, physically. I had been toiling for hours and hours, doing as always things which I couldn’t remember. I tried to close my eyes and to rest, and I failed. My mind, that collection of polished mirrors, it continued to buzz relentlessly along, thin and stretched and spinning...”
She fell silent and swung. Then...
“The silence and the stillness stayed there with us for a very long time, and thud... thud... thud... went the great clock. The smell grew slowly stronger and I seemed to be floating up off of the floor, my empty stomach squirming around and around, not allowed to truly cry out. Then, finally, finally finally, there was a new sound. Things changed for a moment. The smaller door slid open in a single woosh, and a new unit stepped into the room. She was ever-so tall and...” A pause and an hourglass gesture... “...and she wore a black garment tight against her curves, and it was matched by her hair. She walked on long sharpened points and her eyes were large shimmering lenses. She came in, and the door closed itself behind her, and she clicked her way across the metal floor to us. When she reached us, she came to a halt and she spoke, her voice as cool and as distant as the far-off mountains, covered in glaciers and snow:
‘Mission completed.’ We three on the floor spoke in chorus, in perfect union. The unit with the bowl held it up for inspection. The unit in black studied the contents, or at the very least pointed her lenses in that direction. She picked something up with a gloved hand... all units wear thin soft gloves, all the time, but hers had things stitched on the back, in purple and red.... the thing she held was thin and long and it tinkled. She seemed satisfied, and she produced a black cell phone from a pocket, and speed-dialed a number. After a pause, someone answered and she spoke. I listened...” Lorelei cupped a hand behind her ear... “...but I couldn’t understand what she said; understanding was not required. Only obedience. I waited. She finished her conversation, and she left, not giving us another glance, not sparing us another thought, if there had been one to spare in the first place. More time passed. Thud and thud. Then all at once parts of the great door started to spin and to twirl, and it swung slooowly open, so slowly. More of the mist came pouring out, thicker and sweeter than ever before. We got up and went in, one at a time, in a row.”
“Inside the vault?”
“What was there?” His knuckles, just possibly, turned a little white on the arm of the chair.
“The dream starts to break up.” She rolled her head, the clicking shutters of her eyes closed. “Mist. Even thicker now, hiding the floor entirely and swirling. The smell, and the throb, everywhere, everything. Metal pillars, flat-topped and smooth, waist high, dozens of them arranged around like in rings a glade of tree stumps. Forty of them, at least. And... and...”
“And?” He actually leaned forward a hair.
“Overhead.” Again she studied the ceiling. “There was... there was another pillar, hanging down from the glare of the lights overhead. Bigger than the others, but just as smooth and mirrored. We came in, and the door closed behind us and locked, mechanical things spinning shut now, oiled bearings, hundreds of them all interconnected. The mist swirled. Thicker and worse and worse. Then the pillar, the big pillar, the thing which was the center of the room, the center of so much more, it opened up... cracked open into twenty three pieces... and... and... and ...” She jerked on her perch as she repeated the words. “It came down into the room. Just came down.”
“Describe it.” His voice was hard.
“I can’t. I mustn’t. There... It was a hole. It was a light. It was purple and red. It had arms, hundreds of twisty slimy little arms and it reached out to this unit and the other units and it held us there and it got inside our heads and it ate us ate all of us and we couldn’t stop it and it was controlling us and it was getting bigger-”
The fire flared for a moment, shooting sparks.She gave a little gasp, and in an instant became composed, if silent, again. She looked at the statue which stood in the room between them, looked at what that statue held, and her expression shifted into something quite unreadable. Finally she continued.
“It looked at what was in the bowl, looked at every molecule without a single eye, and it approved. One of the floor pillars split open and the red-haired unit dumped the bowl’s contents into it. We were dismissed and we went out, went down the hallways, and up the slick metal stairs and through door after door after door. Opening and closing. Woosh. We went to tubes and lay down. I entered the non-functioning time.”
“And that was the entire dream? Beginning and ending in sleep?”
“No. There was more. One more. The best and the worst, because the mirrors were still there, and the lights, but now... in the end... they were all smashed and broken and screaming. Red and purple pain arced like lightning from jag to jag.”
“Something had happened to the mirrors?”
“No. Something had happened to me. To the dream. Cut off, lying broken and alone. In the... in the dark. Darkness had come again, after so, so long. She had been sent up out of the hole, away from the mirrors, out into the city, on another assignment, and somehow she had failed. Failure was disobedience was death. The other units were gone, back to the mirrors or dead, and she lay in a dark place, among the weeds and the broken bottles of crude alcohol, and the shadows were crawling in from all sides, hungry and vengeful. And she welcomed them. Before, during the mission, it had been night, and cloudy, but the lights had still been there, it hadn’t been dark, until the failure. The shadows brought an ending. Release...”
“But. He came.”
“Who? Me?” Black literally cracked a smile with one corner of his mouth.
“No, silly billy, not you.” She shot him a sly look. “You come later. Much later. Long after the dream had ended. He came, and he was a short thin man, with long gray hair, evil wizard hair, and he was wearing shabby black clothes, rags stolen off a scarecrow and cut down to size. His eyes were hidden by a wide-brimmed hat, but they were kind. Hideous and black and kind.” Yet another look at the man in the chair, not sly this time, not at all, and he looked back. “He carried a large book under one arm, a thing bound in leather, smooth and oiled with age and as black as his eyes.”
“Ah. I see. Was he the target of the assignment?”
“No. The target is gone and forgotten. It was not part of the dream. But still, it was not him. He was just there, as he always is at such times, in the shadows and the corners, lurking like a vulture. Waiting to swoop in.”
“And so in he came. He brought new light, but just light, a candle flame with not a single mirror, nor a ticking clock, and the unit immediately hated and loved him for it. There were other units with him, but they weren’t units. They wore gloves, but otherwise they were dressed incorrectly, exposing things which should be covered, covering things that should be exposed, exposed forever to the glare of the mirrors and the lights, to be touched and stroked by the mist...”
“What did they do?”
“The units were carrying something, something large and bulky and covered with red screaming words. They took the unit, she resisted, struggled and screamed, but they opened it, the thing they carried, pried off the lid and put her inside. Inside... it was very cool and dark and calm... and thick and wet. There were hammering noises, bliss, and then silence and stillness once more. The world dwindled slowly away to a point. To nothing. And the dream was cut off. It ended, once and for all.” She swung in silence.
He said nothing, but got up out of the chair, and crossed the room to the wall opposite him. He pulled on something, a large plastic-coated sheet dropped down in front of the books, a detailed map of the city, bisected by the looping curves of the river and covered with numerous notes and symbols and crisscrossing lines. He studied it all for a time, occasionally puffing out an absent cloud of smoke. Finally, he touched a particular spot on the map and he spoke, more to himself than either of the women.
“Seated up high. Overlooking his domains. Sort of narrows things down. There's really only one likely candidate, isn't there? I suspected, naturally, but to know for sure... And the gallant Father is involved as well..." He abruptly yanked on the map and it rolled back up out of sight with a series of thwaps. He faced Lorelei. “You realize of course how much all of this complicates things, don’t you?”
She was unmoved.
“You delight in complications. It may be your greatest weakness.”
“Perhaps.” His mouth quirked again. “Be that as it may, why don’t you sleep for me now, Lorelei. Sleep and dream. Find me some more complications...”
Her chin dropped to her chest, even as she continued swinging, her hands still clutching the two chains which kept her perch aloft.
He returned to the chair and he sat for a long time.
The room’s door opened again, and this time Andrea appeared. She carried a tray with attached legs, and on the tray sat a bottle, a glass and a jar. The bottle was tall and silvery, the glass squat and wide-mouthed. The jar was made of smoked gray glass, and had an elaborate stopper. Things were engraved on the jar’s side in black and silver. She crossed the room carefully but quickly, deliberately not looking left or right. (Particularly not right...) The tray was placed neatly next to his chair, and she departed in a silent swirl of hair, as black as Miko’s, her legs stiff, her joints clicking in their eagerness to be far, far away. The door slammed silently behind her, against the soft felt which lined its frame.
He sat for a long time.
Then he took the bottle, pulled the cork with a single quick jerk, and he measured out a couple of careful fingers into the waiting glass. The liquid was the same color as the bottle which held it. The jar’s lid surrendered after a complex, almost artistic, struggle, and from inside he took a large oval pill which seemed to quiver angrily between his fingers. He swallowed the thing with a shot from the glass and a grimace. The empty glass went back on the tray.
He reached into one of his pockets and extracted a ink pen, a black shaft chased with tasteful gold trimmings. He unscrewed the cap with careful deliberation, and attached it to the pen’s blunt end, leaving the solid gold nib exposed. Unlike Lorelei’s key, it seemed to amplify the firelight, and turn it into something truly dangerous and retina-searing. Another pocket offered up a small leather-bound notepad. He flipped open the pad, revealing page after page and line after line of neat black notes, written on creamy paper in a fine flowing hand. Many of the items had thick lines drawn through them; many didn’t. He paged methodically into the pad until he came to a sheet which was only half-filled. There he crossed something out:
Clans. Talisman?and added two lines:
Find someone named Lacy. Long red hair. For Andrea.
Wait for FW to call
He snapped the pad shut and the entire procedure was reversed. His hands empty again, he pulled out his glasses and adjusted them back into place. He adjusted his entire body, made sure his red slash of a tie was straight under his jutting chin. He flexed his hands as if to stretch them, and again extended a forefinger in the direction of the woman in front of the fireplace. He spoke softly but firmly, thunder and lightning rumbling back behind the single word. And behind that, the grandfather clock began to sound out the hour, out through the floor.
The spasm whip-cracked through her body, ending at her head, which snapped up. A half-second later her eyes flipped open and they were wide and very white. Her expression now matched the one which eternally graced the ivory face of the woman who held up the lamp behind the man in the chair. Miko looked at nothing, her fingers spread, her pose bringing to mind that of a slim graceful lizard artistically posed on a sun-warmed rock. Black studied her for a moment then continued.
“I’m afraid that I don’t have time today for any more of your foolishness... my fairy princess. You won’t tell anybody anything about what has happened here. Not the clanfathers, not anyone. Not even yourself. Do you understand?”
“I understand, my Lord.” Her voice was sing-song, very far away.
“Very good. Now come here. There is still a great deal for us to learn. Yes. Both of us, I think.”
She slithered off the cushion, across the carpet, past the tray and up the side of the chair, wriggling, moving herself more with her torso than her arms or legs. Her bare back was presented to him once more, and she flopped again to rest, her smeared arms and legs bringing to mind this time a rag-doll rather than a puppet. Her neck looked broken as it dangled her head over the side of the chair. Her eyes did not close.
He touched her, and she gave a single thick conflicted moan, her body giving one last involuntary spasm. Her expression did not change. His fingers moved dexterously, following the twists and turns down and around...
He abruptly paused, and drummed his fingers absently. He touched that special spot again...
“Tell me, Miko. I’ve just had a thought. Do you like plants?”
“Plntss?” Her lips barely moved, slurring the word. Confusion. “I... no... I...”
“You enjoy working with plants, Miko.” He glanced at the tangled underbrush outside the window. “You enjoy working with my plants.”
“Yss... enjoy... your plntsss.... Belovdd Clanfthrrr...”
“Good. Excellent.” His smile grew wider. “That’s one problem solved, anyway.”
Gripped by the statue, the thing with the ruby eyes grinned and watched the world go endlessly by.
To be continued?
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