Inelt turns to her twin brother, her gentle rainbow eyes glow in the darkness of heaven’s canopy. It is a beautiful night, and the two are perched on the edge of the world looking down at the dance of the human kaleidoscope below, their most beloved view.
“Do you think the gathering storm will be violent enough to subdue the slaves who have been freed?” she asks, concern sparkles in her words.
“The armies of Night will destroy their own Tower with their violence, beloved sister,” he replies. His sister shivers, but his voice is calm, his face, grave. “Don’t worry. Instead of returning to the world of slavery, like an arrow that shoots through its target, their own violence will destroy their world entirely.”
“It will hurt, won’t it?” A tear gathers in her right eye. It slides down her cheek and falls down, down, down through all of the heavens to earth and lands on the curly, brown-haired head of a child sleeping in the streets, under the stars.
“The Nightmare will be over soon, sweet sister.” He curls two giant, black wings, soft as silk, around his sister’s shoulders to comfort her. Do you remember what I told you, about Sunrise?”
“It’s always darkest before the Dawn,” she whispers, exhaling deeply.
And her breath sets the world on fire.
“It will be over soon,” she says, watching the sparks turn to flames in the world below. “Should we go down and help? I don’t want them to suffer for long.”
“What does your heart say? Do we have the order to bring relief?”
Inelt pauses, looking down into her heart. Her eyes close and she breathes in a deep, slow breath.
“Yes, my brother,” she replies.
“Then we go.”
They leap off their perch on the edge of the world and swan dive through the upper heavens. They streak down, down through the night sky to the world below, down through the lower heavens, earth’s skies, and into the streets, to where the curly-haired child had been sleeping. He was awake, running from an oncoming crowd shouting slogans and waving makeshift weapons as they attack a woman in their midst.
As the twins approach, they see fires and smoke. Screams of fear and shouts of anger fill the air and through the flying ashes and the twins land in the heart of a fight.
A woman is trying to fight her way out of an angry mob. Her auburn hair is filthy and wild, her green eyes burn with a fury Inelt has only ever seen in the soldiers who fought the first Tower, the one before humans existed. The woman is dressed in rags, bloodied and bruised, but Inelt recognizes her.
It is the woman that, her heart tells her, is the key to this battle. Inelt looks into the unseen, the world of the connections between all things, and she sees that this woman is a node in a network of humans that must be protected at all costs. If she falls, then the whole mycelial structure she’s connected to will whither and die. Humans will be weakened, and the rot of the Tower can set in.
“You’re not taking me back!” she screams at the crowd surrounding her with knives and bats. “I won’t let you take me back! I will kill you before you take me!” She’s wielding a machete at her attackers. The crowd, led by two men, overtakes her and she screams, kicking and punching the men and women who are trying to subdue her. The air is filled with their screams of anger and fear. Ash and smoke whirl in the raging wind, and fires in the distance crackle and blaze.
“You will die, and those who you love will die, too!” faceless people in the mob scream at her.
“I would rather die than go back to slavery,” she roars. A new energy fills her as she kicks a man in the throat and slashes his face with her machete. Blood spurts from his nose.
“Let her go!” Inelt screams, her voice filling the sky with fire, arms raised and hands outstretched. To her surprise other angels begin to join them, descending through the sky from their own homes and up from the earth where they live in caverns and underground rivers. They throw themselves into the battle, separating the woman and her people from the roiling mob.
The woman turns to the angels descending from the sky. Her eyes widen in wonder mixed with horror and awe. Inelt lands next to her, putting herself between the woman and her attackers. The other angels gather around the children and other men and women who the crowd is attacking.
“Sister, you’re safe.” Inelt wraps her wings around the woman and pulls her to her breast, sheltering her from the beating she is taking from the crowd. “I’m here to protect you.”
“Get off me!” she spits, lashing out with her machete at the angel. “I’ll kill them all for what they’ve done!” She lurches out of Inelt’s grasp.
Her green dress is torn and blood-soaked, and she tears herself out of Inelt’s grasp, lunging toward the two men who lead the attack against her. She’s moves with total concentration, like a panther ready to pounce. Her face is set, and she is focused on death.
Inelt knows that look. She has seen it on the faces of angels when they have called on their greatest powers.
Behind the angels is a gangly teenage boy, his thin chest glistening with blood and sweat, his hands covered with the same. Inelt can see a deep scar on his right arm. His brown eyes are darting around as he fights with a broken spear, and as he sees the woman approach the mob, he breaks free from his skirmish with another youth and runs forward, shouting, “Mom!”
The mob descends on the woman, and he throws himself toward his mother, his face etched with terror. Tears stream down his dust- and blood-covered face
“No!” he screams as he tries to pull the woman away from the battle. “You don’t have the strength to fight all of them, Mom! They’ll kill you! Please! Let’s run!” He doesn’t seem to notice the angels.
The mother’s body begins to falter in her weariness. Her attackers are beginning to overwhelm her, and Inelt rushes in to block the mob from their attack.
“Hold on. I will help you,” she says to the woman. “Mathias, my brother, take these two into your protection. I must deal with these people.”
The woman looks up at the angels, her eyes shining with tears.
“Who are you?” she asks. She sounds tired, tired to the bone. “Are you angels?”
“Yes,” Inelt replies. The mob is motionless in shock and fear. They don’t know whether to run or to attack. The boy is behind her, clutching the now-broken spear. The fires continue to crackle and hiss in the distance.
“Please save my son,” she begs. “They will kill him, too, if he doesn’t run.”
“We will protect him.” Inelt lifts the boy to her breast, wrapping the wings around him.
“I can’t do this anymore,” the woman sobs. “I can’t.”
This is why they had to come, Inelt thinks. We cannot allow her to fail. “What is your name?” she asks the woman, who is now starting to sag.
“Orla,” she replies. “But my people mostly call me Mycelia.”
“I’m Inelt and this is my brother, Mathias. We’re here to protect you.”
The woman is shaking from exhaustion. She leans into the safety of Mathias’ wings and closes her eyes.
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep going,” she whispers. “It’s been so long.”
“You don’t have to keep going. You can stop now. I will protect you.”
The crowd is beginning to advance on them again. Most of them are armed with machetes, spears, and metal pipes. The mob descends on the angels, and now, the angels fight. They bring down the crowd with cries of fear and fury, cries of anger and confusion.
“We have to leave,” Mathias whispers to his sister. “We have to get Orla and her son and the others to safety.”
More angry people begin to join ranks with the mob as if the floodgates have been opened again.
The clouds open up above them and rain starts pouring down. Inelt stands before the gathering crowd, her black wings stretched as if from horizon to horizon. A booming thunderstrike slams the crowd with every beat of her wings.
“I know what it is you want. I know what it is you fear. I will help you!” Inelt shouts to the crowd. “But the woman and her son will be safe.”
The group of people gathered around the woman look at Inelt and the angels around her. They are tired. A few of them are bleeding, a few are sobbing, most of them are furious, and terror sparks in their eyes
“We have to go,” one of the men in the crowd says. “The Tower will kill us. They are — “
Inelt hears a blast from the distance. It is like a giant drum, thundering and louder than anything she has ever heard before. The sound rolls across the sky. She looks up and sees black smoke roiling in the sky in the distance. The Tower is approaching.
“Orla and her son are under our protection,” Inelt says to the mob over the thundering sound of the approaching tower. “If you want to survive this day, walk away. We will help you. Killing her will not solve your problems.”
The crowd looks up at the angels, then at the Tower in the distance. The tower is rolling across the sky like a wave, as if it was made of smoke and not stone.
The woman’s son looks up at the sky and his eyes grow wide. He throws his arms around his mother.
“We can’t fight anymore,” one of the men says.
“We can’t just let them go,” says another. One of the men steps forward, pulling lengths of rebar held together with duct tape from his pants. He points it at Inelt. “We can’t let them live.”
The crowd murmurs in agreement. Mathias steps forward protectively.
“Let them go,” he says. “You have no choice. Let them go or we will kill you all.”
The ground starts to heave and shake around them. Mathias flies to the top of a nearby hill, the woman and boy in his arms. Inelt looks back at the mob, who try to follow. She bars their path.
“You have not chosen well this day. You will be destroyed by your own malice.”
And with that, she let out a breath that charred every man and woman to blackened ash.
— — — -
The Tower is coming, and I am helpless. I am caught in my own body, rendered unable to move or speak, except for the occasional involuntary moan.
I am incapable of any action. I can only see and feel. I’m screaming in my mind. My screams echo in the cavity of my skull but I make no sound. I try to move my arm, my leg, but I’m frozen. A terrible face comes into my view.
I have you. I have you. I have you. You’re mine! It screams silently in my mind without moving its hideous lips. A tongue darts out and slides across the top scaled lip and then across the bottom. Fangs like a serpent’s extend from its top jaw and the jaw suddenly widens into the face of a viper.
The face opens its mouth and snakes its head towards me. I can feel the cold, slithering tongue rubbing against my face. I can feel the sharp teeth almost piercing my skin. I can feel it and yet I can do nothing. I am powerless.
I will have you. I will have you, the voice says in my mind. You’re mine. You’re mine. You’re mine.
“Stop,” I plead in my mind, but I know it’s useless.
I can see your fear. I can see your fear. I can see your fear. Fear is my power. Fear is my power. Fear is my power.
I feel its tongue wrap around my face, slithering up my cheek. The tongue slides over my brow and feels like the sharpest knife I have ever felt. It slides over my eyes and it feels like they are on fire. The tongue slides into my ears.
“STOP!” I scream in my mind.
I can feel it sliding over my scalp, over my skull. Its tongue slides over my forehead and suddenly I am caught in a vision. I am looking out from the serpent’s eyes. I am soaring through the clouds. I am looking through human eyes. I am seeing everything it sees. I am in its mind.
I am looking out from the serpent’s eyes. I am seeing the world burn. I am feeding on the fear and anguish. I am drunk on it.
“Orla wake up! Wake up!” I feel myself being shaken.
“Orla! Orla wake up!” someone yells again, more insistently this time.
I’m awake. I’m awake. I’m awake.
I open my eyes and look at Mathias. Who is Mathias? How do I know his name? He is hovering over me and he’s smiling, but his face is etched with concern. I watch his smile start to droop and now his face is melting. I watch as his nose, mouth, and eyes start to drip off his face. I scream and Mathias’ face snaps back together.
“What is going on?” I scream. I look around. I’m sitting on the ground. I’m covered in dirt and leaves. I’m looking up at the face of the Tower, which is looming above me. I’m under a giant tree just inside the perimeter of the camp.
“Don’t worry. We’re coming for you,” he says before his face melts into nothing.
“Orla?” I hear Jack speaking to me from far away. His voice is calm but insistent. “Are you okay?”
I jolt awake, eyes snapping open. My breath catches in my throat. My husband is standing over me and I’m lying on my back on my bed. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I try to move a finger and it curls against the soft linen of my sheet. I sigh in relief.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I whisper in reply. But the nightmares won’t go away.
“It will be over soon,” Jack whispers in my ear as he gathers my nearly-limp body in his strong arms. I wrap my arms around his back. He’s so strong. He’s my anchor. What would I do without him? I bury my face in his chest and sigh. I’m beyond tears.
“Orla, will you let me take you to the doctor now?” He pulls back to meet my gaze, eyes searching mine, seeking a sign of consent.
“You know how I feel about doctors, Jack,” I say, averting my gaze from the intensity of his eyes. “Especially psychiatrists. It’s all a sham.”
He looks down, disappointed, but he knew this would be my reply. I haven’t wavered since the nightmares began. He comes from a family of doctors so he can’t understand my distrust of the profession. I come from a family of herbalists and midwives. I don’t expect him to understand.
“I understand,” he says. “Orla, look at me.” He squeezes my hand. “I love you more than anything in this world. I want to help you. It’s killing me to see you like this.”
I look at his face. It’s wearing the same expression it has worn for the past two months since the nightmares began. It is a mixture of love and worry, with just a trace of anger. I can see the love he has for me shining through his face, but I can also see that he is tired of watching me struggle. He’s tired of my nightmares. I’m tired of seeing the fear in his eyes. I’m tired of hearing the concern in Jack’s voice. It’s making me crazy.
“I know, Jack,” I say, leaning in to kiss his cheek.
“I’m still worried about you,” he says. “You’re not eating anymore. You’re barely sleeping.”
“It’s okay, Jack,” I say. “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not,” he says. “You’re not fine.”
I close my eyes to stop him from seeing the pain in my eyes. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I try to convince myself that I’m fine but I can’t. I can’t do it.
I’m not fine. I’m not fine. I’m not fine.
I bury my head in his chest and nuzzle his neck, seeking comfort in his warmth and strength. I feel the heat of his skin on my cheek, the stubble from his day-old beard scratching against my face. I get up, gently shaking off Jack’s comforting embrace and walk to the bathroom. I shut the door behind me and my eyes meet my reflection in the mirror. The image I see makes me wince. My face looks like a crumpled paper bag covered in stress wrinkles. My hair is greasy and limp and my eyes are blank and lifeless. I can’t see any color in them. They have become the cold, dead eyes of the snake in my dreams.
I stare at my reflection and run a brush through my hair and wash my face. I try not to look at myself while I’m doing it. I’m not ready to look at myself yet. I’m not ready to see what I’ve become. I’m not ready to confront my demons. I brush my teeth, looking down into the sink, one arm leaning against the cold, white porcelain of the sink. I spit toothpaste in the drain.
I want to hide. Hide from the nightmares. Hide from Jack. Hide from the world. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid of being left alone. I’m afraid of being alone with the nightmares. I’m afraid of the darkness that is creeping up on me. I’m afraid of myself, afraid of what I’ve become, of what is happening to me.
“Orla,” Jack says my name softly as he knocks on the door asking to come in.
“Yes, Jack, come in.”
He joins me in the bathroom, and I feel his arms wrap around me. I collapse against his chest. I can feel his arms pulling me up. I can see myself in the mirror again. I see the fear in my eyes. I see the sorrow. I see the exhaustion. I see myself. I’m really not fine.
“I’m sorry, Jack,” I whisper. “I’m not fine. I’m not ok. I don’t know what’s happening.”
“I know,” Jack says, his lips are warm on my head. “We’ll get through this. What did you dream about?”
“Nothing. The same.” I say, “Visions of the future. I always have visions of the future.”
“What did you see this time?” he asks, his voice full of concern.
“I can’t see it clearly,” I reply. “There are only bits and pieces. I’m afraid to see the whole thing. I’m afraid of what it means.”
“Tell me what you do see,” Jack insists gently. He holds me to him, his arm around my shoulders.”Maybe we can sort it out together.”
“I see… angels, I think,” I say. “I see a mob of people, a tower in the distance. I see a son, my son — our son, I guess. He’s a teenager.”
“Well, that’s good news, isn’t it?” he asks, putting on a cheerful smile. I don’t know if he’s willfully ignoring everything else I said to find the light in the darkness, or if he’s just brushing it off because it doesn’t concern him.
“It could be,” I say, “I can’t see anything clearly. It’s all a jumble of images and names and sounds. I can’t see what it means.” I pull away. It’s time to get ready for the day.
“I’m sorry, Jack,” I say. “I’m sorry I can’t be the wife you want me to be. I’m sorry I can’t be the kind of wife you deserve. I’m sorry I’m so broken.”
“It’s okay, Orla,” he says. “I love you. I always will. No matter how much you hurt yourself. No matter how much you hurt me. I know it’s not your intention. I’m here for you. We’ll get through this together.”
I can see it in his eyes. I can see the love there. I can see that he’s tired of it all, and I can see the hope fading from his eyes. I can see the fear crawling up his skin. I can see him slipping away from me. How could anyone put up with what I’ve put him through these past two months?
But I can’t indulge in my fear anymore. Not today. It’s time for my daily rounds, making sure the elders and the mothers, and the abandoned children have what they need to make it through the day or the week. Things have gotten so tight since the world began to crumble, and the bricks and mortar from the edifice above us came slowly crashing down, crushing the people below. Us, they crushed us. It’s my job to maintain the network that we all rely on. That’s why some people like to call me “Mycelia,” because I tend to the mycelium of the community network, the heart web.
A face appears in the mirror. It’s one of the angels I saw in my dream. I start in fear. My body tenses and I can feel Jack go tense behind me. His arms encircle me again, even tighter.
“Jack, do you see it, too?” I breathe, almost too afraid to make a sound.
“The face in the mirror…” he starts, but he can’t continue. He starts shaking.
I hear a voice booming in my head, not unlike the screams in my dream. It reverberates through my entire being.
“You must bring the message,” the angel says, without moving his mouth. “You must bring the message.”
His eyes turn to look at my husband, who is still in shock behind me. “And you, beloved husband of the messenger, you will support her. You will make sure she is successful. Do you understand, man?”
I can feel Jack’s head nod above my head. His breath is coming in short, shallow gasps and his chest is tight against my back.
“Now go, your people need you. You must find the other messengers, the others whose souls have accepted the mission.”
And with that, the angel’s face disappears from the mirror, and Jack and I are left looking at only our own shocked and terrified faces. Our eyes meet in the mirror.
“Now we know what the nightmares have been about all this time, the visions,” he says, his voice is tight, but I can hear a hint of relief.
“Yes… now we know.” I don’t know if this is any better, but I straighten my back against his chest. I’m ready. I don’t know what the message is. I don’t know what I need to do or what will happen, but I’m ready.
And with that, the tide of war changed. The slaves began to rise, and we would not be stopped.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
Thank you for reading the story of Orla, or Mycelia, as she becomes a prophet in the Book of Worlds collaborative storytelling universe!
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