Suddenly Emmeline’s mind split into facets. Voices competing for her attention:
“we are here Mabrilith, we feel the pain of guilt once again…”;
“we hear you, say the word and your pain will be gone and the wicked punished…”;
“I sense you are here Larasdaughter, you must not risk, you must endure…”;
“I pray my daughter still lives…;”
“You killed me, I just wanted some fun. She was asking for it…”;
“Happy, happy, happy. Cats, cats, cats, kittens and cats…”;
“I sense they have left the Periphery, but we cannot find them as yet, but we will…”
Pulled everywhere at once, Emmeline was confused and lost amid the chaos. “What? Who?” Her growing disquiet only fed her distress. “Leave me alone!”
The voices wouldn’t stop. They just continued
“if you wish our daughter, we feel your pain, it is okay…”;
“you are never alone, you are many voices, we are many voices, ask and we shall do…”;
“you are open, broadcasting and receiving, be aware if I know, then they know…”;
“You should have left me alone instead of asking that thug to kill me..”;
“Aww. But I love you kittens…”;
“Wait, the witch speaks…”
Holding her head, the voices would not ebb.
“reach out to us, it will take much of ourself, but we can be there…”;
“there are other voices beyond us, beyond you, interesting, we can help…”;
“focus, pick a voice, focus on it, shut the others out, for a time…”;
“Am I dreaming, is that you?…;”
“My boys will get you. They’ll seize you, use you, and sell you. Just you wait…”;
“We will never be hurt again. Kittens, kittens, kittens…”;
“Where is she. Seek the barbarian, is she nearby? Quickly…”
They kept coming…
“we are you, you have to let us in…”;
“call us, unleash the pain, you have to let us in…”;
“don’t let them in, focus, be calm…”;
“My little girl?…;”
“Tomorrow bitch, you and the tease die…”;
“Oh, its you. Thank you. Why are you in my dream?…”;
“Do not hesitate, Quickly…”
Another voice joined the chorus, an even more distant one…
In her mind, Emmeline tried to concentrate on Mara as she saw her at the Tree, tried to suffocate the voices in the growth of an old forest.
They kept coming…
“yes, we hear you, keep thinking about the Mother, just a bit more…”;
“we can help the Mother too, avenge its pain…”;
“yes, focus, go to what strengthens you…”;
“Lara, I’ll be with you soon…;”
“I miss my mommy, why did you let me go?…”;
“But of course, you…”
Panic rose again at the thought of the voices attacking her Mara. She tried to forget everything and tried to imagine running through ancient woods she didn’t know.
The voices began to settle, though murmuring remained. The sounds began to fade into the bubbling of a brook and wind in the trees. She could almost see it. In the distance was the Mother Tree. The tiny child of Mara was there with her arms wide…
“we see you, come to us…”;
“Meh, in the end, she is her mother’s daughter…”
Emmeline slowed and reached for the child. “Is it you?” She fell to her knees. “What’s happening?”
“Your pain weakened you. You are conflicted. We know, we have felt it many, many times,” said Mara. “Shhhh,” she continued as she embraced Emmeline, “tell me what trouble’s you. I’ll keep them at bay.”
“we know you are there…”;
“Been a long time…”
“Things… are trying to find us! They want to find you, too.” She fought the panic and tried to order her fractured thoughts. “My head feels like it’s tearing apart. I… I think I hear people who hunt me, a sleeping girl, a dead man who wants to hurt me, my mother, you and a god who wants to consume us both!”
“Something has happened. Something that tears at you. What is it?” She replied.
“Unintended murder,” Emmeline said. “It shouldn’t have had to happen. I made a mistake and allowed something to happen. When the man pressed to buy sex, I could have led him off. It was my fault for letting River run wild with using her magic on people and flirting too much. Instead, I had a hired man do something about it. Now a man is dead, murdered.
“And there are slavers in these lands,” Emmeline continued. “Tonight I saw a dwarf master abusing this halfling who was this innocent little entertainer. I couldn’t stand what he was doing to her. I took the dead man’s money and used it buy her freedom, but my friends want to track him and kill him for what he does to his slaves. But it doesn’t really end there, does it?” She grew more upset again. “The man I had murdered has family. I hear him in my mind. He says his sons are coming for me. What if they raise him? I have to take responsibility for what happened, don’t I? To protect River.”
“River needs no protection from you. She needs guidance and wisdom, as do you. But together each of you has wisdom the other lacks. Learn from each other and become greater for it. Uplift each other,” Mara said. “I feel them. Searching for you. Your conscience has let your defenses drain away, leaving you vulnerable. Don’t build walls, don’t become bitter. Life is a series of choices Mabrilith. Do you not think others have suffered the same? Draw on them. Draw on your mothers and your mother’s mothers and your sisters. Build strength from the knowledge that we stand behind you through all your days.”
She sat down next to Emmeline, with the Mother Tree suddenly there in view. “You cannot blame yourself, you cannot set things right, but you can learn from what happened. Learn who he was. He gave his life so you might learn, though he did not intend it. If you do not learn, then that death has no meaning. You must learn.”
Emmeline took a breath and tried to steady her nerves. “I’m not sure I know how to do the things you say. I’ll try…”
“You have to try, fail, and try again,” she replied. Voices started to grow in Emmeline’s ear, the loudest saying, “The beast deserved to die. He would have raped and murdered your friend. YOU DID RIGHT!”
Suddenly Emmeline was torn from Mara, her hands reaching out and rapidly fading into the distance. Emmeline was surrounded by black. One by one eyes began appearing in the void. There was no sound.
The blackness faded for a moment and Emmeline could perceive something, light and sounds, but then it faded, replaced by a toothed mouth saying, “They are trying to save you. Only you can save yourself. Ask and you shall receive. Would it not be better to not have pain for doing such things, for doing justice upon the wicked?”
She spun suddenly in the darkness. The cadaver of the dead man stood there speaking, but with no movement. “You had me killed. I just wanted some fun. Now you and yours will pay.” His face fell open leaving his teeth as the cadaver dissolved and the teeth joined the many smiling toothy grins of hate surrounding her.”
Emmeline felt cold, terrified and alone, but for a indistinct voice ahead of her. The eyes and teeth began moving toward that area and Emmeline saw pure horror as what must be Elemix was under threat from the mass of hate. From behind however, she heard a voice, faint but distinct, “Emme, Emme, this is the way out of this nightmare, come to me, come to your Sevé.
As Elemix was consumed, Emmeline saw him arise as a dark prince and behind him a great tree withered. From behind the voice pleaded, “Come to your Sevé.”
The darkness began to fade away like a dawn from the direction of the voice of Sevé as Emmeline heard mumbling and sounds from the direction of the dark Elemix. The eyes and teeth focused on him, tearing him apart as they spit him out, rebuilding him as they consumed him. It was abject horror. The tree continued to wilt and shapes of being rose, fell and dissolved from the dead.
Suddenly she was in a meadow, in a shift only, her hair long and flowing in the breeze. She was like the child she first imagined herself to be when she first encountered Mara. She felt odd, almost weightless. Sevé flew up near her, “Hiya Emme. You are safe here with Sevé.”
“Safe?” Em looked around. “I feel strange. Is that really you?”
“Yessum Emme! It really Sevé. This is where Sevé goes when she needs hidey place. Now you here too.” the fairy said.
“Thank you Sevé!” She wanted to give the little fairy a hug. “You saved me.” She looked around again, then asked, “Do you think Mara is okay? I can’t tell what was real…”
“Don’t know. Sevé had feeling you need help. I think Mara sended to me, waking Sevé up. Sevé couldn’t go to you, so she take you to Sevé. Methinks Mara gave Sevé the power though.” the fairy replied.
“Mara said this happened because I was frightened and upset, and that left me vulnerable. Can I stay here until I feel better?”
“Yep. But you should know it is only your spirit. Your body is sleepytime…I think.” she replied pensively.
“Oh?” She was self-aware enough to understand she was still very confused. But the quiet might be just the thing she needed in order to put her mind at ease again. “I think that’s good, then. You’ll show me the way when it’s time to go back?”
“Of course, you just wish it and ‘poof’ you back,” She replied, “Sevé then follow.” The meadow was nice, with flowers and butterflies. A copse a trees stood nearby as well as a pond. But, oddly the meadow faded down quickly as if the horizon was but a few hundred yards away. Beyond was blue sky and clouds. There was light, but no sun could be seen.
“Sleep is good,” Em said. “Wait a minute. Is this all a dream? I thought I was talking with my friends and then…” She stopped and shook her head. She didn’t want to think about any of that in case it might call it all back up again. On second thought, Em decided she was probably unconscious more than really asleep and that’s how she was here. Then she looked down at herself to figure out how come she felt so light and small. Was she really just a little girl in this place?
Sevé said, “Well we couldn’t take all of you. So we took your spirit self only. You’re asleep, well unconscious, back in the timey world.”
“I’m not picky,” Em said with a tired smile. “I’m very grateful!” Was it possible to be soul-weary? Right now, she thought so. Still, she was concerned about her friends. “I think I would stay here a long time if I could, but I can’t really tell how long I’ve been here already. Our friends might be worried. Do you think it’s safe?”
She was rapidly feeling better. She hadn’t really dealt with how she felt about the dead man or Rosie or the slaver yet at all, but at least now she realized the need to compartmentalize and deal with just one big issue at a time, and that carefully. There were far more listening near her than she had ever imagined.
Sevé said, “This place is very safe. It is on the edge of the Otherworld and the Timeyworld.”
“I mean, do you think it is safe to return to the… uh… the Timeyworld?” Emmeline tried to clarify.
“Sure, if you feel okay,” said Sevé.
Emmeline wasn’t very uncertain. She had figured out some of the voices were people seeking her, likely to do harm. If she returned they could run. On the other hand, she was very quickly growing weary of running from enemies. Certainly running from problems in her own mind wasn’t helping anything.
But she hadn’t even quite figured out what Mara had been trying to tell her. Draw on the experience of her mothers? But Lara was dead and Adela far away. Her sisters? What sisters? She suspected Mara referred to relatives in the past, or possibly in the future. Mara just didn’t experience time the way Emmeline did. If that was true, then Em had no idea how to draw upon their experiences for advice. If Mara meant current but distant relations, then Em didn’t know who they were. But Sevé was here. Maybe she was “sister” enough.
“Sevé, have you ever killed someone without meaning to?”
“Yeah. A mouse named Sammy.” She answered. “Felt really bad.”
“What did you do to feel better?” Em asked.
“Sevé tried to make things better with the mousey family, but they mad at Sevé,” she replied. “Feel bad, do good for those hurt. Only thing you can do. Honor the dead ones. But someday Emme need to forgive herself, even if others do not forgive her. Else, you killed two people, one accidentally, and one by neglect.”
“Good advice, Sevé. You sound like Mara,” Em smiled. “I’ll try. Who knows? Maybe the dead man’s sons will decide to raise him back. If not, well, that’s a choice, isn’t it?”
Slowly, Emmeline’s mood began to lift. She’d learned a lot of things, many of which would take time to sort out. To do that, she had to return to the waking world.” With the thought of leaving, she departed Sevé’s realm and hurtled back to her body.