[Cecily] Thirty-Six: "The Third Eye'"





       I remember Shen waking me from the Dream. I remember him picking me up, cradling me in his arms. His voice was soft, soothing, but undercut with worry. I heard Stark too, saying they had to get me to the infirmary. My head hurt, and I lifted my hand to my face, to the source of the pain. My cheek was sticky, and as I pressed my fingers against my skin, I realized, as the pain spiked and everything began to fade, that I couldn't see my hand from that side.

       When I woke again, the pain had dulled to a deep ache and I opened my good eye. Harry was standing at the side of the bed, gripping my hand tightly, talking in low tones with Stark. I could hear Fletcher giving orders. Near the foot of the bed Shen stood, a stalwart sentinel; I was very glad of his presence, and remembered how much I had missed it during the years he had been gone from Amber.
       Even as I thought that, something about it didn't ring right. I remembered Shen leaving, going back to the Rheari, only returning when I asked him, but there was something flat and dull about those memories. The harder I thought about them, the more I could almost see through them, like images projected on a poorly-lit screen.
       It was hard to concentrate through the dull ache in my head, but from the conversations that flowed around me I pieced together that the last ten years had been all in the Dream, that we'd been woken from it, and that Hakthla had taken my eye in the real world, just as he had in the Dream.
       I stopped listening then, because it made me remember other things that I just couldn't process right now.
       Griffin came in sometime later, and behind him... I couldn't breathe for a second, and my stomach dropped out as if I were falling. Memories shuffled and overlapped. I thought I was going to be sick.
               "Do you love me?"
       Matthias. Who was staring at me, uncertainty etched in the furrowing of his brow.
               "That makes this so much better."
       "It's really him." Griffin said, no doubt seeing the revulsion I couldn't keep from my face. "It's okay."
       Sure it was. I turned my head away so I wouldn't have to see the bewilderment in Matthias' eyes.

       I heard them leave a short time later as the room filled with armed guards, courtesy of Fletcher's paranoia. I appreciated it a little more than usual. Stark said she needed to go, that I had to rest. I knew what she meant, and I wanted to argue, to tell her no. I didn't want to sleep. I didn't want to dream again.
       As it was, I didn't even feel feel the needle as it punctured my skin.


*****


       I stood in front of a door, the only feature in an empty expanse of pale light. A dream. Hopefully of the lowercase variety. My head was pounding and a sharp pain pulsed behind my right eye - long, short, long. I grabbed the door's handle, my other hand going behind my back out of habit, reaching for the gun that unsurprisingly wasn't there.
       Inside I found my room in the castle, the one from the Dream. Jasper Matthews was sitting on the bed, a stylized eye drawn on his forehead in a deep, almost purple blue; he held one hand cupped over his right eye. "Ahoy, matey."
       "Very fucking funny, Jasper." My hand mirrored his on my own face; something, a patch, most likely, covered the empty socket.
       His grin faded. "Yeah, that was in pretty poor taste, wasn't it?" I could see the bindings they'd cut still tied to the posts. My stomach turned, and I had to bite down on my lip to keep from throwing up.
               "I've never been happier..."
       "I know it's not okay, Cecily."
       I opened my good eye, not even realizing I'd closed it. Jasper was watching me with a deep and abiding sympathy that made me want to crawl into a little hole and hide the shame that suddenly boiled inside me.
       Instead, I said, "I've never been treated to a greater understatement than that." I kept my back pressed against the door; its solidity was the only thing keeping me upright at the moment. He just kept looking at me, the silence between us strung like an over-turned violin string.
       And then I found myself speaking. "It was my worst nightmare come to life, Jasper. Everything I've ever feared about the monster under the bed. He was there, and I couldn't move, couldn't..."Couldn't breathe, couldn't even think. All I'd been able to do was scream when it was over.
       "You took the biggest risk, Cecily. You gave your trust and love. You willingly gave in to vulnerability. And it came back and bit you in the ass."
       "I really hope you're not trying to be comforting."
       "You're not the sort to take comfort, Cecily, needed or not."
       I sighed. He had a point. "I appreciate the very unsubtle message there, Jasper, but like you said, it's very much not okay right now, and I'm very much not in the mood for this crap. So just let me sleep in peace, okay? Because it's the only peace I'm going to get for a while. Just leave me that little bit, please?" I realized I was pleading, and that scared me. I can't let this get to me. Maybe after we save the world, then I can have a nice little breakdown.
       "The chakra of the mind." He tapped the extraneous eye. "The Third Eye, Ajnya, the seat of true wisdom. Some say it's the place where our true motivations are found, the level of consciousness that directs our actions. The narrow gate that opens the way for our consciousness to ascend to its final destination. Through it, things becomes clearer; how we got to where we are, and where we will end up if we stay on the same path."
       "It's not that I don't appreciate the lesson in Hindu philosophy, Jasper." I paused. "Yes, it is that. If you have a point, do me a favor and get to it, okay?"
       "Imbalanced," he went on without listening to a word I said. "Imbalanced, it can cause panic, depression, fear of truth, confusion in discipline, in judgment, even blindness..."
       If my knees hadn't been shaking so bad, I might have gone over and strangled him.
        "When in balance," he went on, "it imbues a profound sense of tranquility, encourages the strength to endure and relinquish pain, frees one from the oppression of worldly limitation and misfortune.
       "It helps one to grieve, come to terms with the past and then let go of that which no longer serves."
       "If you're trying to tell me to turn the other cheek, Jasper, I'm going to tell you to fuck off."
       He laughed, breaking the tension for the moment. "I know better. But some of it makes sense. Some of it is very important." Suddenly he was standing before me, tilting my chin up so that I was forced to look at him. "He took your eye. He took your dignity. But those aren't permanent losses. Your eye will heal. Your dignity will mend. But if he took your confidence, your fire, ability to love, to trust, to be you, then he'll have stolen your soul in a way that you won't be able to get it back, even if you destroy his oculus again.
        "Think, Cecily, how you got to where you are, and where you will end up if you stay on the same path."
        "'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat." I quoted at him, and he laughed again.
       "It's going to be hard, Jasper." I hated how scared I sounded.
        "I don't like to use your words against you, but you said it yourself. Nothing is ever easy or painless, is it." He kissed me gently on the forehead. "Sleep. You can't do anything right now anyway. It's not okay, I know, but it will be."

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