10 avr. 2016

Chapter 24


"I made most of this myself,” he says, sounding more excited than I’ve ever heard him. “I tried to reproduce everything as accurately as I could. You know, I would have loved to have the ‘real thing’, and though I’ve managed to smuggle a few small items over the Raedes, transporting stuff over here can be…a little tricky,” he confesses.
Both his breath against my cheek and his endearing enthusiasm would have had a powerful effect on me, if I weren’t so busy gawking at this… this… eerily realistic replica of a human apartment.
Here we are, after what’s felt like weeks of basking in the Aelfric supernatural, standing at Peter’s ‘front door’, on top of a majestic set of white marble stairs, overlooking what could only be described as a colossal city loft. At first glance, it comes off as a long, outright rectangular, windowless space, with a chaotic mix of every style of interior design there is. For a Harry Potter fan, this is just the kind of secret room you would conjure out of a wall, and store everything that’s dear to you in it.
It starts off with a living-room-like corner, furnished with a lonely, single grey sofa which looks like it’s been bought from a twentieth-century online catalogue, and plenty of fluffy, colourful cushions here and there. Everything here must have been designed for one… Next to the sofa is a massive, rustic chimney that’s probably never been lit. And on the stone mantelpiece, a thin ivory vase with etched tribal motifs bearing a bouquet of the most beautiful green roses, as well as one less glamorous item: an opaque tray containing – wait, are those… eyeglasses? There’s a whole bunch of them there, disposed loosely in the tray.
Why does this still shock me? After all, I mustn’t forget: my boyfriend is a fake. Even I don’t know what he really looks like, were it not for that fleeting image I saw in Sam’s threads. And although I’m sure Peter fancies himself the Elven Clark Kent, I know that if the glasses worked on me, they surely must have worked on others of my kind… But I digress. I focus back on the apartment, and notice that, in order to separate the different areas, Peter’s disposed several, beautiful folding screens of pastel colours, which add an airy feel to the whole thing. Could it be Sam’s influence to have these, instead of walls? Hmm… I wonder if she’s ever been here. Or, even more, if he’d ever brought her to Pi’s. I quickly shake my head to cast such thoughts out. Not sure I want to get into them right now, so I bring my attention back to the apartment.
The first screen I see bears extremely elegant drawings of male and female Aelfrics, clad in traditional Asian costumes and performing daily chores under pink cherry trees in bloom. I know he could draw portraits of inhuman accuracy and realism, but here it’s obvious he’d wanted them more stylized than anything, which must have been quite the out-of-character challenge for him.
Further into the apartment, I notice a varnished Art-Deco buffet filled with delicate china that looks more decorative than adapted for any form of eating or drinking; a regal, Medieval-looking round table with a unique high wooden chair; a drawing table like the ones architects use, but minus all the adjustment nobs and screws; a tiny silver fountain – not a basin; an actual bird fountain, like the ones you see in the park, or a smaller version of the one in Tom Hank’s living room in Splash; and an intriguingly shut, Baroque ebony closet that’s wider and higher than any I’ve ever seen.
The walls – yes, plain, good old fashioned walls – are simple and off-white, which only helps increase the contrast with the dozens – or is it hundreds? – of framed drawings, all with white strokes over a black canvas, hanging from floor to ceiling. Are all of these his?! A vast majority look like portraits, which is far from surprising. Though… who are they of? This would require a closer look, but I’m almost sure the subjects aren’t all Aelfric.
And the ceiling…What in the…! It’s so bright and warm that it takes me a few seconds to be able to look up at it and figure out what it’s actually made of, with its beautiful, recognizable green hue.
“Is this, erm, a whole ceiling of your Lumes?!”
“You can already distinguish my Lume?” he smiles. “Yes, these are all my mine. A million, nine hundred and seventeen of them to be exact.”
“But… why so many? Is it just because you like it bright in here?”
He plants a soft kiss right under my ear, then reluctantly leaves my shoulders for my hand, dragging me deeper into the apartment. My bare feet quickly recognize the beautiful feeling of walking on warm carpets – Oriental, by their divinely ornate aspect.
“I do like it bright in here, and despite my knowing everything there is to know about Energy, I must admit I could never really re-create electricity! And that’s just driving me crazy! You, however, know me better,” he smirks, “You know I wouldn’t make over a million Lumes just for their glow now, would I? So, any other theories, Miss Brandt?” he challenges playfully.
“Well… Lumes normally carry a message. Maybe you’ve generated messages that you just ended up keeping to yourself?”
“A million, nine-hundred and seventeen hesitations? That’s an awful lot, even for me. Think harder,” he teases. “You, of all people, should be able to figure it out.”
“Argh! Okay… They’re messages that you’d rather keep to yourself… Maybe, like, reminders? Ugh, I don’t know! More clues please?”
He nods with a widening grin, and heads for the massive baroque closet. Once in front of it, he stops me to build up some more on the frustrating suspense.
“As I said, during my missions, I’ve managed to sneak a few small things through from the Gardens. Yours, specifically. Small bits and pieces I’ve had to get gradually, and to reassemble on this end. Things that need electricity, unfortunately, so I’ve had to get that too, somehow…”
As he says these last few words, I hear the two heavy ebony doors creak and scrape as they open up to reveal another breath-taking collection that’s probably also in the millions.
“Woah!! Are these…CD’s?!”
“And cassettes, yes. And this is the jewel of my collection,” he says as he points to a locked rectangular case on the middle shelf. He then proceeds to opening it, and I hold my breath, although I have an inkling as to what it might be.
I grin as soon as I get confirmation: inside the case is a sort of Nineties design, silver stereo, a bit scratched in a few places, and possibly missing a couple of pieces, as some cables are visible on the sides. It’s got a double cassette deck, and a disc player on top, just like those Erik had, back in the day. But what really gets me giggling is what’s right next to the stereo.
“Hahaha! Don’t tell me this is a car battery!”
“Hey, no mocking!! It took me five Raedes and a fair amount of lying to get this!” he huffs, half-seriously miffed.
“Sorry, I really don’t mean to mock any of this!” I say genuinely, wiping the last, lingering tear off my cheek. “This is just so… Human, and I miss it.”
He tilts his head for a second, then takes a step forward and delicately puts his arms around me. I gladly snuggle up against his bare chest, which suddenly makes me more aware of the fact that I have a cover around me, and he doesn’t.
“Does it work, this homemade radio of yours?” I ask, hoping for a distraction.
“Of course it works!” he throws, slightly offended. “So… have you guessed what the Lumes are for then?”
Hold on. If he’s mentioning this in the same conversation as the radio, there must be a connection. I pull my cheek off his chest for a second, and it suddenly hits me. “Oh God!! The messages you’d rather keep to yourself… they’re songs, aren’t they?”
He smiles and gives me a very quick, proud peck.
“Yes, Ma’am. Before I actually came up with my smuggling plans, and as I was toying with the idea of how to rebuild a radio without tools and without electricity, I actually captured some Garden songs I liked inside my Lumes, and brought them back home with me. But the sad thing is, I could only listen to these songs once after that, as the Lume would be consumed. It was too frustrating and ephemeral for me, and I needed the option of unlimited listening. Well, relatively, as the battery is bound to die on me someday soon,” he frowns.
I listen to him with an endeared grin, as he reminds me of the Muggle-obsessed Weasley dad from Harry Potter. I don’t even have the heart to suggest he smuggle some blank cassettes, push the Lume into his forehead and hit Record on the radio. Wouldn’t want to point out how, in spite of all this, he doesn’t have many Human reflexes. Or maybe he’s that picky on audio quality? Either way, I really feel like hugging him right now.
“Does Nirav know you’ve been using him to sneak these in?” I joke, but quickly regret it as I see a fleeting dark look in his eyes. He really, really doesn’t like talking about him, does he? “Nevermind that; tell me,” I swiftly change the subject, “What’s on those CD’s?”
“No, you deserve better than the CD experience. Here,” he suddenly kneels down, and carries me at the waist, lifting me up closer to the ceiling. “Reach out and pick one Lume, any one.”
“No, wait!” I protest, “If I listen to it, it would be gone forever, or at least until you’re on a mission again, wouldn’t it? I don’t __”
At that moment, a gut-wrenching idea hits me: after Danielle’s through with us, would Peter still be allowed on any of those missions?... And if not, how would I ever see him again if I, you know, manage not to get executed, then find a clever way to escape an entire species that would try to stop me, and end up going back home, somehow?
“It’s worth it though. You’re worth it. Come on, I’m curious to know which one you will pick…”
I put one palm on his cheek and smile, and reach up with the other. I then push the randomly chosen Lume into my forehead and wince. Geez, I’ll never get used to how unpleasant that feels at first; but I wouldn’t want to listen to the song alone.
It starts off with a very soft guitar intro, followed by a few notes on an accordion.
“Well, what do you know!” Peter whispers as he slips a hand to the small of my back and starts swaying gently. “You picked an English singer living in Paris. How convenient,” he winks.
Then the first lyrics go, Greener than blue…, and I already know I love it. I put my cheek back against his soft chest and close my eyes. This is so much better than Pi’s Space… No gooey aphrodisiacs and creepy arousal Talents… Just the two of us, hidden in a place that is most probably unknown to anyone else – except perhaps Sam… – hugging and painfully aware that we can’t do that whenever we wish, outside this Space. My mind then wanders off to what awaits us next, and panic when I realize that we might be reaching Danielle’s soon, if not next…!
What?!... No!... I’m not ready!!!
Oh God… What will happen to us? To me? Will our cover story hold against the Queen whom no Aelfric can lie to? Will the Elders Council give us a chance to defend our case at all? Or will we watch them, powerless, as they issue the worst of sentences against our alleged treason? And will Nirav just sit there with them, coldly deciding our Fate?
Somehow, Peter senses my stress, lifts my chin up, and looks at me inquisitively.
“Is this the last Space, before…?” I’m not sure how to complete this sentence.
 Greener than you, the song goes again.
We stare at each other, and realize that in the worst of cases, these might be our last moments together.
Next thing I know, we’re kissing so hard it hurts, and holding each other so tight, as if desperate not to have anything separate us. Each of our kisses is a plea, and they’re just not enough. We almost fall to the ground, in our urge to melt into the other, and stay there for as long as we possibly can. 
In the midst of this crazed outburst, I feel Peter pulling me even further into the apartment. He then tears the cover off of my shoulders without the least bit of delicacy, and stops for a breathless second to ask me, “I would like to look at you, and touch you now. Would that be okay?”
I’d thought we were actually past that, but I do appreciate the, erm, “tact”. I take a step forward, and make sure every inch of me is feeling his body heat. He inhales sharply, and opens his mouth to say something, but no words come out. He then encircles me with his arms and pulls me as close as his strength allows, and I sense us both falling sideways.
We land on what feels like a bed of warm nursery cotton, and I sigh. The sound somehow pushes him over the edge, and his fingers start exploring, skilfully and passionately, every bit of me. I’m suddenly self-conscious: this man has probably had a very, very long time to practice this – and only this – whereas I’ve had nothing but extremely awkward human experiences with it, which normally ended up in both physical and emotional pain. I have nothing much to offer him, do I?
“Hush,” he says between two kisses.
“I didn’t say anything!”
“You’re thinking so hard I can almost hear it! And besides, some muscles under that beautiful skin of yours contract when you do. So hush, it’s my first time making love, and I need to focus,” he teases.
“Your first t… – Right!” I snort.
He stops and looks me straight in the eye. “You should listen better. I didn’t say I was a virgin. I said it was my first time making love. As far as I know, the nuance exists in your world too, doesn’t it? Now, may I?” he asks with an insolently polite smile.
“My apologies,” I almost blush, and laugh nervously as his hands go on making my every skin cell combust. Then, one providential realization ends up putting some of my insecurities to rest: in the midst of all this passion, I suddenly grasp an innocent undertone there…. It’s as if every touch, every stroke, every kiss he gives me, were like a romanticized gesture straight out of a teen Rom-Com. This isn’t to say that it is cheesy, but rather, that it stems from a total idealization of what making love is really like. He must have fantasized about it several times, and was too receptive to how them earthly movies portray it. This puts me at ease with my equally lacking knowledge of… anything sexual really. It’s also sort of…empowering. And I suppose what makes me let go completely, is the pleasant thought that if the waterfall is soundless on the outside, it could only mean that no sounds made here, however loud, would ever leave the apartment.     


The first thought I get, upon opening my eyes, is: it’s nice to finally be sleeping by choice and not by passing out, for once. But… do Aelfrics sleep at all? I haven’t seen any of them do it, so why do I?
I try to ponder on this, though I’m quickly distracted by the mere thought of what I’ve – what we’ve just done. I hear myself exhale, lengthily. I’ve never been kissed, or held, or touched like this before. I’ve never felt so…quenched, and so unburdened by my abnormality. There’s no soreness, no shame, and no never-agains to speak of. Just a feeling of blush-inducing bliss, and frankly, some achy joints. 
I flex all the muscles I can still feel, as my hand reaches for Peter’s, but it’s nowhere to be found.
I sit up, confused. I’m sure he hasn’t left me here, but couldn’t he have stuck around for a “morning” cuddle or something? … That’s a must in Rom-Coms, isn’t it? Also, incidentally, there isn’t much I personally wouldn’t do to stay here, in this bed, all curled up against him, and delay our royal encounter indefinitely.
My feet touch the vibrating ground, and I get the same shiver I had the first time, in the brooding bubble. The bed is twice as big as any king-sized one I’ve seen, and twice as comfy. It even has a specific, homey, ‘jasminy’ smell Peter must have worked on. The rest of the room is just as chaotically decorated as the rest of the place: the wall behind the bed is completely covered with a heavy, dark blue curtain, embroidered with hundreds of tiny silver stars. And on the opposite end, separating this bedroom-like area from the remainder of the apartment, is another folding screen, decorated with a lovely ink wash painting of a lilac-coloured rising sun. On the side, a single, large sliding door looks like it would open to a huge closet. I stare at it with a hesitant yet mischievous smile. Would it really be considered indiscreet of me to have a quick look inside, and see just how Human Peter’s wardrobe gets?
I decide that he would require a lot more to genuinely be mad at me, so I delicately reach out and slide the door open.

Woah… this is definitely no wardrobe!

The initial shock is in the sheer size of this… this hall-like space-within-a-space. It’s like stepping straight into a historical library. The lights here are dim, and seem to be coming from hundreds of fireless candles disposed almost everywhere, and casting a tiny, yellow light, enough not to plunge one in total obscurity. It takes a considerable amount of squinting, as I look up, to notice the massive, dark stone arched domes above. The rest is nothing but thousands, or maybe millions of small wooden shelves, and parchment. Scrolls: rolled, folded, hung, laid carelessly or disposed decoratively… as far the eye can see.
I take a few steps forward, and feel really conscious of the total, heavy silence. Even my breathing seems to disturb the thick air. I try to inhale more softly as a strange feeling of doing something wrong starts creeping in on me. Maybe I shouldn’t be here.  
And yet, some morbid fascination keeps me going, delving deeper into this murky hall-like drawing shrine, where every paper appears to have its designated chapel-like space. I’ve never thought of how awe-inspiring it is to be in the midst of so many works of art, on something as ephemeral as paper. I should perhaps go to the library more often.
The second shock comes from a sudden and strange compulsion I get to concentrate on one particular row of drawings, disposed vertically to the right, under an overcast archway. Perhaps they’re just too delicate or precious to roll up and slip onto a shelf, but I suspect it’s also because of that compelling Energy they seem to have. The mere sight of them automatically ignites my Super Senses, even before I’ve figured out what they actually represent.
My Super Senses have become the most reliable way for me to realize how nervous I am. But it’s also a rush suddenly feeling and comprehending ever speck of Energy around me. Whatever this Talent of mine is, I wonder how I could possibly utilize it. For now, all it’s showing me is the lack of dust in such a space, when it would be full of it back on Earth, as well as this silence not really being…silent. It is heavy for sure, enough to make my ears ring, but there’s something behind it, something faint that I couldn’t possibly perceive without the aroused perception. It sounds like a soft rustling of tissue and metal, and it seems like it’s coming from the same room, although I can see no one else there. It starts to freak me out, so I focus back on that intriguing row of hung portraits, and try to figure out why it felt so chilling even before I’ve had a closer look.
I step forward and try to make sense of the first drawing. It’s not exactly a full portrait, but rather a fragment of a cheek, with an ear and some locks of hair. It’s like Peter has chosen not to focus on the entire face. It’s beautiful, and yet, something is repelling about that ear. It’s perfectly drawn, though at the center of it, the black hole is not quite right. I try to screw my eyes and figure out why. However, the more I look at the spiralling hole, the less easily I can breathe. The ringing in my ears gets louder, so much so that I shake my head and gather all my strength to look away. If I didn’t know any better, I would say these drawings have a much more powerful… magic than all the others in this room.
My morbid curiosity takes over again, and I find myself masochistically looking back under the archway, and reaching out to the reveal the second drawing in the row. It’s also an incomplete one of a nose arch, an eye staring straight at me, and to the left, a horrible, horrible gashing scar. I inhale sharply and take a step back. What the…?! Why would Peter even draw such a thing? This new surge of emotions only increases the eerie senses, and I hear what was first a soft rustle become a very clear scraping and scratching. I look around, alarmed, and still see nothing but inanimate drawings. I really need to get out of here.
And yet… maybe one more drawing, just to prove how fucked up I really am. I reach out and move much further in the line, to the very last of those drawings. And boy, do I really wish I hadn’t. 
A pair of eyes. That’s all there was. A pair of savagely mutilated, gorily gouged eyes, which instantly give me a violent shock. So much so that it only takes a second of looking at them for me to just… unravel. Has Peter really done this to someone? And why do these pupil-less eyes seem like they’re perfectly capable of sight? Why are they looking at me as if they know me? The effect of their icy stare is such that what I’ve so far called my Super Senses go on wild overdrive, and what’s always triggered them, that feeling of panic, becomes the complete opposite: my thinking brain shuts down, and I am all Senses and Perception.
The low, ruffling sound I heard before turns into the main ambient noise, and as I twist around to find its source, I clearly see a luminous silhouette standing only a few meters away. A silhouette I now know well, with its bulky armour and its pointy helmet.
A Sentinel!
The instant I look at him, he seems to swerve towards me, but doesn’t appear to really see me. I can’t make out his features, but his thin silhouette glows brighter by the second. Is he in another dimension? Or… a pocket room, like what Vlad has in the Mausoleum! He’s right there in front of me, but in a hidden chamber. And I can see him, through the optical illusion.
I stare, and my unbearable terror is muted by the absence of my thinking brain. The thought of the Mausoleum reminds of the very first “trick” I did when I stepped out of the Brooding Bubble, with the vibrating ground. And just like that, I feel myself gradually lifting off and floating as I did with Dem, and with the blood thirst of a predator, I pounce towards the ground and imbed my fist in its strange matter.
A shattering shock-wave unfurls towards the Sentinel, who literally flies backwards, lands with a bang, and his heads pops up to look straight at me.
I know I haven’t neutralized him, and that it would take him a couple of seconds to overcome his surprise and step out of the pocket room to come after me, so I run like hell.
I run back to the closet-like door, into the bedroom, past the folding screen, then through the cluttered apartment. Peter is nowhere to be seen, and I’m too deep in my supernatural trance to worry about that. I just fly to the main door. I mean I actually run so fast that my feet take off and I’m lithely gliding through the air, but my brain doesn’t find it strange. I can already hear the Sentinel approaching fast, and I reluctantly stop at the door, wondering what it would take to open it. No knob, no mechanism, just a plain white door.
Oh what the hell…
I just aim and punch it, hoping the same ripple would happen with anything other than the ground. And it works. The door undulates and simply pops into dozens of smaller fragments, and I’m suddenly back in the cave. The waterfall is painfully loud, but I can still hear the Sentinel’s footsteps behind me.

He then screams out, “Lily! Stop!”

The voice alone breaks my flight, and my breath hitches in my throat. I turn around and see the armour, the tree on its chest, the helmet with the two leaves… all worn by none other than Peter.