“Everything you were on Earth is still inside you, buried deep,” Rosemary intoned. She was sitting, as always, on the rough bench, hands folded in her lap, the two packages of folded, corded hide sitting beside her. Late morning sunlight filtered into the Redoubt through its narrow entrance; iron-bracketed torches smoked and flickered in the cave walls. “You merely have to find the patterns hidden at the center of yourself. Your subconscious is the key. Do not dig, but allow your mind to drift inwards, to the heart of your memories. Experience yourself again.”
My name is Will, Will thought. I am sixteen years old. Marvel, everybody, at the depth and complexity of The Will Experience!
“You have brought with you to Elysium that which is most central to who you are. You do not need to find anything new. You do not need to seek. On its own, your mind is drifting into the memory of who you were. You are inhabiting the memory.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Will noticed something stirring. The rays of sunlight through the cave mouth revealed tiny specks of matter, swirling in the air, slowly. Rosemary took no notice; her eyes were shut in concentration. Next to Will, Buddy’s heartlight hovered, motionless. But was it, perhaps, a bit dimmer than he’d remembered it?
“Be now as you were then. Feel now as you felt then. Who is with you, standing beside you in your memory? What is in your heart as you abide in his or her company? That feeling is who you are. Allow the feeling in your heart to slowly pour through you, into you, filling you slowly from the bottom, as an empty vessel.”
Definite motion now, all throughout the cave―a twisting of dust in the air, and, somehow, of the air itself. A low whistling, as of the wind through a crevice. And at the center of the forming vortex, Buddy’s heartlight.
“In what task are you engaged, in your memory? What is in your heart, as you perform this task? That feeling is who you are. You are one with your work. Allow your work to occupy you. It is bringing you into harmony with itself and with your world. It is you. You are it. The task and you are one.”
Not just dust, now, but larger particles of earth and bone and flesh, rising from the cairns, vapor from the basin, sucked into the vortex. Will had lost all pretense of concentration on his own memories. As he stared, Buddy’s heartlight was slowly being obscured behind a gathering, thickening crust of random matter.
“What is in your waking mind, in your memory? What thoughts wander through your head? Reach out with all your senses to the world around you. Experience the colors, savor the smells, taste the tang of the air. This is life. This is you. You are filled with it, one with it. You are spirit and form in one! Feel the rasp of air in your lungs, the thrumming in your ears as your heart pushes life through you. This is yours, this is you, you are thought and sensation; they fill you at once, they combine within you, where they meet is where you are, is who you are…”
The vortex was swelling out wider, gathering more and more loose matter into itself. The crust around Buddy’s heartlight was growing, changing. Something about the light within the Redoubt had changed; the cave was no longer illuminated from outside or by the oil lamps in the walls. It seemed to Will that the air itself, suddenly charged with static, had taken on a glowing indigo hue. As if backlit in blue fire, the form before them was taking on the shape of a human body, building itself up from nothing, from the inside out. Matter was remaking itself before Will’s eyes; random materials transmuting through some unguessable alchemy as earth, stone, water became bone, flesh, skin…
Rosemary sat motionless on the bench, eyes closed, face unchanged, her tone unaltered. “The memory is you; you are the memory. There is no distance, there is no time, there is only you. You! Body and mind! Inhabit yourself! You are rising from the dream, rising towards consciousness! AWAKEN!”
Something thrummed through the cave, through Will’s soul. The cavern echoed with a ringing POP as air shoved itself aside to make room for something new.
The light, the electricity, blinked out of existence. Where Buddy’s heartlight had been, there was a body on the cave floor, face down, skin white as snow, trembling and gasping.
Rosemary was remarkably quick, grasping one of the hide bundles, untying it in a blur of deft fingers, then racing to kneel beside the prone form and cover her up with it, then wrapping an arm around…
Will looked again. Rosemary had an arm tight around Buddy’s shoulders and was whispering soothing words. Wrapped completely in the huge swath of tanned leather, buried in its folds, the shape of Buddy’s body was indistinct. Nonetheless, a glance was sufficient to confirm what he’d thought he’d seen.
Buddy was a girl.
There was a deep humming thrum, a moment of resonance, as if her soul were a bell that had been struck, and the universe spit her out. Sensation was thrust upon her, flooding her unready mind; The Light was gone and gravity weighed upon her and she was cold, cold. There was a sudden roughness on her skin and a whispering roar in her ear resolved itself slowly into cogent sound, and then into words.
“Wonderful! Wonderfully done! You’re safe now, child, perfectly safe. Breathe, yes…slowly, try to slow down…I know it’s a shock, all the sensations flooding back at once…losing The Light, losing the extra direction…you’re just disoriented, it’s going to be all right, I promise, this is all perfectly natural…yes, that’s it, much better…you’ve done wonderfully, dear, many people have taken much longer than you did, you were brave, very brave, and very strong to inhabit yourself so quickly. You may cry if you wish, nobody would hold it against you.”
Rosemary…No, Rosemary, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES will I cry. After all you’ve done for me…and after all she did for me…you both deserve so much more than a cowering girl.
Strength, then. Strength, and poise, and presence. You are in the presence of true friends. Be the woman they deserve.
Oh, God…I’m so weak, though…so cold…
“No? Very well, then. Good, very good. Would you prefer to be held, or shall I get you something to drink? Of course.” Rosemary made a quick detour over to the brazier on the far wall. In her clearing vision, she could see her, bringing back an earthenware bottle that had been warming on a metal grate and a small wooden cup.
Will watched as Buddy sat staring straight ahead, shaking all over in spite of the thick hide. She had short, dark hair and thin birdlike features; her wide blue-grey eyes were rimmed with red. Her skin was so pale as to be almost translucent. Maybe a little plain-looking, truth be told, Will thought. At first glance he had believed her to be a child, but he saw now that that had been a misimpression based on seeing her swaddled in the huge cloak; she was closer to his own age. She looked up gratefully at Rosemary, who was scurrying back across the cave, bottle and cup in hand.
“Here you are. You’re doing remarkably well, dear. Herbal tea with honey; it will settle and relax you, and your body needs the sugar.” Rosemary gently eased the girl up onto the bench, then sat beside her, wrapped a comforting arm around her. “Just small sips at first; your body needs time to remember how to swallow. Yes, just like that. Can you tell me your name?”
“Mmmulmmp…” The girl set the cup down and took a long breath, steadying herself. Her hands came up to her face; her thumbs kneaded at the muscle under her jaw. She was still shuddering a bit but looked to be regaining her composure. “Emmmaallff…Emily.” She blinked, looking up at Will’s heartlight, then turned to Rosemary, speaking slowly and distinctly. “My name is Emily.”
“I am so, so delighted to meet you, Emily,” came the voice by her ear. And perhaps the arm around her was acceptable under the circumstances. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely wrong to be weak, if only for a moment, and only in present company. A woman could lean upon another woman. “Can you tell me whether this body is the one in which you died, or a younger version of yourself? Not everyone can manage a younger incarnation, especially on the first attempt…”
“No.” Emily took a long, steadying breath, followed by a longer swallow from the steaming cup. Her voice was still shaking; she commanded it to stop doing so, and slowly, it obeyed. “No, this is me. This is who I was…”
“Who you are,” Rosemary corrected her gently, with a warm smile. “You are as alive now as you have ever been, Emily.” Rosemary looked up at the heartlight against the wall of the cave. Emily’s eyes followed Rosemary’s, and she felt a sudden, sharp pang of sympathy and loss. You look different through these eyes, she thought. I can’t see the true color of the light in you; it’s faded to a sort of chartreuse. The color of The Light…human eyes can’t really see it.
But I see you. Oh, I see you. And I remember.
Rosemary was addressing the heartlight now. “As for you, I hope the delay in your own incarnation isn’t because you’re trying for a younger body. To incarnate is difficult under any circumstances. You should, at the first attempt, come back as the most physically familiar version of yourself. As Emily has. Believe me, you can do it. You must not be discouraged at lagging behind her; I am fully confident that you are capable…”
It came bursting out of Emily, welling up from deep inside, before she could control it. “NO!” she heard herself shout. “STOP IT! Don’t you dare patronize her!”
Will hovered for a moment, confused. Emily’s eyes, so rheumy and close to tears just moments ago, were alert and flashing anger, her voice sharp. But I didn’t say anything!
And then he realized that Emily had been addressing Rosemary. And that Emily’s “her” had been in reference, not to Rosemary, but to him.
Rosemary was staring at Emily, her gaze steady, her eyes patient. Emily lowered the cup in shock at the sound of her own voice. Her hands flew up to her own face reflexively; but for the fact that her body didn’t seem to know how it worked, she would have slapped herself. “Oh, God…Rosemary…I’m sorry…That came out wrong…”
“It’s all right, Emily,” Rosemary responded, tightening her one-armed embrace. “It’s not your fault. Your body isn’t used to all these stimuli. To anything, really. There’s all these hormones and chemicals surging through you and they don’t quite remember what they were for yet. You will find that things are a bit jumbled for the first twenty-four hours.” With her free hand, she gently grasped Emily’s hands and slowly lowered them from her face, then smiled at her warmly. The smile was a lifeline; Emily felt peace flow into her, and was even able to return a small, shy smile of her own.
“Rosemary, I’m grateful. Really, I am. I was…I don’t know. I wasn’t sure, at first, I didn’t know if I wanted The Light or, or to come back, but…but this is right. It’s right to breathe again.” She inhaled slowly. “So, so right.” A weird giggle came welling up out of nowhere and burst from her lips; the surprise must have showed on her face, as Rosemary laughed in response. “Okay, yeah, you’re right. I’m…uh, kind of a mess at the moment. This is going to take some getting used to.” And the two of them laughed together for a moment.
“But, yeah, sorry, I overreacted there.” How can I explain it? How can I make Rosemary understand? “It’s just that…” Emily looked back across the cave, to where the single, lonely heartlight hovered motionless. “Rosemary…she was so amazing. Back on Earth, I mean. I was just flailing around, and then she showed up, out of nowhere. She taught me…well, everything. How to move. I mean, she could fly from the moment we cleared the…the barrier field? Is that right? She was turning loops and spirals and I couldn’t even move. She could have done anything, gone anywhere.” Emily took another swallow of tea. “But she didn’t. She stayed there, and she helped me. She showed me how. She taught me to fly.”
Had Will thought Emily was plain-looking? Her features were ordinary enough. A picture of her might not have caused men to swoon or filled the eyes of modeling agents with dollar signs. But there was something in her that a still image couldn’t possibly capture. I can see her heartlight, he suddenly thought. Not literally, but…it’s there. It’s in her face, somehow. When she was angry, there, a moment ago. And now she’s smiling, and there it is again.
She’s an incarnate human being…with a visible heartlight. And when she smiles, she’s…not plain. Not at all.
And then Emily was looking directly at him. And then was she smiling, not shyly, not in reminiscence, but fully, and most importantly, at him. With her eyes first, then with her whole face, then with all of her.
When she smiles, she smiles with all of her.
Not plain. At all.
“And then later, with the…psychovore?” Emily paused to draw breath. At first she hadn’t been able to speak at all; now, suddenly, she couldn’t stop. “The giant fish-thing? On the way in. She was the first one in, the fast one. The one that drew it here. She…she drew it away from me, first. It had me, and she basically dove right into its mouth to pull it away. And then…when it was chasing her…I…I tried to catch up…to help…but I couldn’t…” And there were the idiot emotions, flooding in and shutting her up, turning her into some kind of swooning Victorian heroine, and she hated them. And she resolved to have words with them, once she had her bearings back. You will be dealt with, princess thoughts, she swore. Oh, yes. There will be a reckoning between you and I. And I will twist your pretty little heads around backwards, so that you can WATCH as I kick your ass.
Rosemary, though, was staring at the heartlight. And Emily couldn’t quite make sense of the expression on Rosemary’s face. It wasn’t the beatific, soothing gaze she’d used with the two of them for the past week and a half. This was more…evaluative, somehow. “It’s quite all right, dear,” Rosemary said, her eyes still locked on the heartlight. “You can’t be blamed. It’s no small thing to outrun a psychovore.” Her gaze intensified, as if she were contemplating a specimen under a microscope. “Did I understand you correctly? Ben’s supposition was correct? You are new souls? Both of you?”
Emily nodded. “She was right with me on the way up, back on Earth, inside the barrier field. She saved me at least twice.” Another laugh came burbling up from inside her, and this time, she gave it permission. “Saved my soul.”
Rosemary nodded slowly. “I apologize, in any case,” she said, addressing the heartlight directly. “I didn’t mean to sound patronizing. I only wanted to tell you that I still believed in you―and based on what Emily’s telling me, my confidence was justified,” she added. “But my choice of language was less than elegant. I’ll attempt to do better, I promise.” She stood. “For now, however, I must leave you. All of Haven is awaiting word of our progress. People will want to know that Emily’s fully with us now. I need to take her back to Ben so that he can make the arrangements; she will be introduced to the town in two days time, at the monthly meeting.” She turned back to Emily. “If that is acceptable, dear?”
Actually, no, that’s not acceptable, Emily thought. The “dear” part, I mean. I expect I’ll get enough “dear” and “sweetie” from the men running this sausage-fest of a town. You and I can do better than that. And where ARE all the women, anyway? But she held herself in check. With every passing moment, she felt more of her composure returning. She would be strong, capable, independent. She was sure of it. She was back on the beam again, and woe betide the man who tried to knock her off of it. “Yes, that will be fine.”
Will watched as Rosemary nodded. Rising, she helped Emily to her feet; Emily’s legs wobbled beneath her like those of a newborn colt. Rosemary steadied her, then turned back to Will. “After we leave, please consider practicing the techniques you’ve just witnessed, those which brought Emily back. Your memories are essential. You must direct your full attention to them. They will bring you home to us, as they have brought Emily home.”
Memories, Will thought. Right. The memories I don’t have. If he’d had a gut, there’d have been a sinking feeling in it. But Emily had turned towards him and had taken a tottering step in his direction, with Rosemary lurking behind, ready to catch her if she fell. And she smiled again, with all of her, and all thought of the mechanics of incarnation―indeed, all thought―just sort of disintegrated.
“Look…I know it can be painful,” she said. “Remembering. It was for me. Knowing what you’ve lost. Some of what I left behind, back there, in the other life…I’d do anything to have it back. Anything.” A long pause. “But…no matter how hard it hurts…please try. I know, whatever it is, you can work through it. Go into the memory, like Rosemary says. Be one with it. I’ll be waiting for you, right here.”
She stared at him for a long moment. “I’ve seen what you can do. I know how brave you can be.“ Rosemary took her Emily, giving Will a nod, and helped her from the cave, out into the light of morning. At the entrance, Emily turned back, one corner of her mouth quirked up in a wry grin. “I’ll bet you’ve never had a single princess thought, have you?”
And then she was gone, and Will was drifting, suspended in space.