Big West 2019 Teaser #4: Vanishing, Vanished

Bri Bedore

I found this journal in my pack, and I’m beginning to let myself believe that it’s mine. The previous entries are in my handwriting, I think. I might be this Captain Marcus.

I don’t remember a name to call myself, but I remember yours, Onwen. Two syllables. The way it feels to say it. An open mouth, closing into a kiss. The sound of it like a heartbeat.

When I found your name in this notebook, in my handwriting, I could have wept.

You were my wife?

Your name was the last solid thing my mind could hold, beyond even my own name, or my homeland… I knew you must have meant something to me. But to read descriptions of you, to put an identity to those two syllables… to know that I was loved by you...

Captain Marcus Kalas wrote everything down as a way to preserve himself, and I suppose it worked, since I found it. Found you. I feel… not restored, exactly, but semi-solid, at least.

Semi-solid like this place, this Labyrinth of oil-sheen aurora.

Let me try writing things down, as Marcus did.

I remember Ghost Crow, the silent sentinel. It kept watch over me, but said nothing. Offered no explanations, no information of any sort. I shouldn’t be angry, after all, it doesn’t speak. Why should I have expected answers?

A visitor came to his roost, a formidable looking woman wearing an iron circlet, her hair like amethyst, and soot on her face. She examined me from a distance, like a child would look at a fascinating beetle. This Iron Lady spoke to Ghost Crow, who nodded once and waved a ragged sleeve in my direction. I remember frowning at her as she approached.

“You are from Iridian,” she told me, her mouth drawing into a soft smirk. She seemed very satisfied with something.

“I’m an Iridian Captain,” I said automatically, surprising myself. “How did you know that?”

“I can smell the curse-smog on your breath,” she said. “Remnants of Iridian are extremely rare. Such a technologically talented, but barbaric shard. Your people found a way to break down the core materials of existence. You broke the elements, turned them corrosive.”

I remembered… an Age of Curses, as Marcus calls it.

“You know of my home,” I rose to my feet, “will you take me there? I have a family--”

The Iron Lady's smirk melted as she shook her head. “How is it that you don’t know? Iridian is gone. Long gone. It shattered itself to pieces.”

“Impossible,” I tried to say it with conviction. I failed.

The woman shrugged, eyes sad. “Tell me something about Iridian, then. Something you remember.”

“...we were masters of plaguecraft, the… the soil was… white?” My mind couldn’t recall an image of a single stone, banner, or town. Nothing.

“There’s nothing to remember,” said the woman, “all that’s left of Iridian are scraps, shadows like you, Captain. When your land faded away, what little there was left got swallowed up. I’m surprised to find you intact. Well,” she smiled again, “mostly intact.”

I stepped back. ‘Faded away’? ‘Swallowed’?

“What do you want with me?” I asked.

Her hard, hazel eyes began to glitter. “With more fragments from Iridian, I could make something truly incredible,” she said. “A blade of curse-poison, or a shield against the same. Ghost Crow has given leave for me to take you to my Kiln. Will you come?” She extended a calloused hand, iron jewelry clanging with a blacksmith’s music. “I won’t harm you, I promise.”

I flinched from her outstretched hand like a stray dog. The Iron Lady softened her expression and reached further.

If Iridian was gone, what had become of you, Onwen? I couldn’t remember your face, your voice, but your name beat in my chest.

I told the woman no, and I ran. Ghost Crow watched, letting me leave his sanctuary.

I wandered the mists… The Iron Lady said that there could me more pieces of Iridian, like me. At first I sought them out, and then, as time and mist-travel ground my brain to dust, I could only hold your name, and ask it like a question.

I don’t know where I wandered, but I remember coming to this place. The Labyrinth.

I followed a pathway of lights, like grounded stars blossoming before my feet, the night sky barren but for the smiling moon. When I came to the Labyrinth’s gate, I thought that I’d found myself in the sky. The ‘walls’ looked like the Aurora Iridalis made tangible, waving before me on the light-pocked earth like a curtain caught in the breeze.

Beautiful creatures, terrifyingly perfect, emerged from the darkness. They asked me what I sought, and as if I were a dog who knew only its master’s name, I replied, “Onwen.”

“Walk the Gossamer Labyrinth, and you will find what you seek,” one of them said.

Another waved a hand, and the ephemeral gates parted for me.

What else could I have done, even if my mind had been whole?

I walked inside. And I have been here ever since.

The walls are solid, but unclimbable. Translucent, but I cannot peer through them to see the rest of the maze. The structure wavers and shifts, as if someone were spinning a crystal as it refracts light.

I have been walking for years, perhaps, or feverish moments, or… I don’t know. The moon is always the same, wan smile. Why should I pretend time exists at all?

I would be walking even still, but… I saw someone, in the light-webbed walls. A hulking, grizzled man. He wore tarnished armor, and dragged a blood-rusted sword behind him. He looked right in my eyes and I screamed, and…

It was my reflection.

I stopped, horrified, and fell to my knees.

I didn’t know myself. Not my name, nor how I’d come to this iridescent nightmare. It was then I went through my pack and found this journal.

I found Captain Kalas, and I found you, Onwen.

I want to be Captain Kalas, I want to be your husband… but what if none of it is true? What if I imagined the whole story, just to salve my own despair? A brave soldier, trying to get back to his beautiful wife. It’s a nice fantasy for a raving lunatic lost in limbo.

...Enough. Enough of this cowardice.

I’d rather make you imaginary than admit the truth, even now.

I know that it’s real. There is one last piece of me, walled off in my mind, that has endured. It’s too painful to touch, too strong to fade.

My name is Marcas Kalas, and I am a Captain of Iridian.

Your name was Onwen Kalas, and you didn’t even live long enough to deliver our son.

I remember standing in my strategy tent, and the messenger arriving with news that our home had been wiped from the map by enemy plaguecraft. You were dead. I couldn’t even leave the siege to find your ashes.

I lost myself in battle, drowning in the delusion that you were still waiting for me to come home.

That’s what brought me to this patchwork land of lost souls. I was gone long before the war shattered Iridian into nonexistence.

I’m still a soldier. Soldiers only achieve immortality through an enduring name. If we burn out brightly enough, or die for the right cause, our names are sung and retold in legends for generations.

I’ve forgotten my own name, and there’s no one to sing of the Cursed War. I’m already gone.

But I couldn’t let go of your name, Onwen, I couldn’t let you die. If I held onto your name, you would still exist. I had to live to speak your name.

You’re here now, in these pages. I found them, even at the edge of oblivion. Someone will find them again. I hope it’s me. I hope I can rediscover you, your smile, again and again.

My name is… soldier. My home was cursed.

Your name was Onwen, and you were loved. Are loved still.

Whoever is reading this, I beg you, care for her name.

Let mine fade. There is nothing left but the love of her.
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