Spiegel Im Spiegel
Part Nineteen: Revelation
Spike took a moment in the darkness, to prepare.
It had alighted here, in the mountain crags. Where the trees began to thin
and the sharp, broken rocks scattered all around, breaking through the
meager soil. Roots tangled in among those stones, and the deep black of the
night clung to them.
And Spike clung to those shadows, unseen. He had trailed it-- had it been
days or just hours? He didn't know any longer, was beyond that sort of
simple measurement. He only knew what had to be done.
The night pressed all around him like icy, black water. The wind moved like
a smooth, strong current against his face and hands.
It had alighted to rest in this barren clearing, coiling the black scales
together , the tail curling in serpentine grace over the compact, muscled
form. The sound of its breathing was strong, the trails of its misty,
cloudy breath flowing softly in the air above it..
And all around it, the green brilliant light overlaid itself across that
night darkness, in spiderweb veins, delicate and eternal. The luminous
movements of the key followed the dragon everywhere it went-- like a
glowing, draping train-- and he had simply followed it here, followed the
glowing light that cut straight up the mountain wilds like a jet trail.
And he felt the hollowness he always felt, when as he looked on that light,
he knew it had no personality. No humanity left. No fear or tenderness,
and no more blood.
And as he waited, he wondered when it was that a lack of humanity had
become something to regret, for him.
And there was no reason to wait any longer. He stood in the night air, the
bitter cold winds flowing by, pulling at the curls of his hair as he rose
his crossbow and took aim.
He'd only have one shot, before it would react. One shot. That was the only
The scales were strong, and he didn't know if he would pierce them. So he
aimed carefully at the sleeping eye. The breath trailed still in ribbons of
steam around the reptilian head.
He aimed, his hands steady. The world focused down to the target, to the
dark lidded eye. The scales around the socket gleamed in a dim, starry
pattern through the darkness. He aimed, and he shot.
The arrow lodged deep into the cheekbone of the creature, and like an
electric jolt its eyes snapped open. Whipping its head around-- unfurling
its wings, it saw the vampire, dropping his crossbow. It saw him draw his
sword and leap forward. And as he moved, like a breaking of the tension in
the sky, the snow began to fall.
Rachel rolled over in her bed. Her hair, newly brushed, fell across her
shoulders, and she sighed softly.
It was so quiet, now. She hadn't really been anywhere quiet for a long
time. Not since she'd been taken by the raider's band.
And the quiet felt like home, even after being gone for so long.
And she was alive. They'd left her to rest. The pain was over-entirely
over, and somewhere close there was a new life, sleeping in the nearby
Fire spilled from its throat and lit the night ablaze. Flames smoldered
against the brush as he leapt from the path, rolling with the impact to the
ground. And it was on him. Sharp razor claws raked against his back,
rending the flesh. He cried out in pain. But he clenched his fist tight
around his weapon, and stood up again.
Lashing out, he struck its soft cheek muscles, where the arrow still
lodged. Black blood flowed from the open wound. The scaled, reptilian face
glowed against the firelight.
And over it all, the green light danced like little bells in the blackness,
rippling over its flesh as he moved to strike again.
She smiled, when she rolled towards the wall. There was a small window, and
the boards had fallen loose that blocked it. She leaned over slowly, and
pushed the rough wood panels aside. The cold draft from the glass cooled
her cheek as she leaned out against it.
Snowflakes were just starting to dance against the panes. The rolling hills
rose into gentle Adirondack mountainsides. And she saw something.
She squinted in shock, peering into the masses of trees there. Smoke rose
from against the branches up on the highest hills, sputtering against the
"Rachel--" a voice called from the door, "Rachel, you should be resting..."
She started, because it was now unfamiliar to have someone care if she were
in pain. Sophia's worn, yet strangely strong hand fell on her shoulder, and
she looked out the window with her.
"The mountain's burning..." Rachel whispered.
The massive body moved with unnatural speed, turning swiftly. Blood ran
down Spike's brow as it struck him with its tail. The screeching cry echoed
against the stones and it turned fast on his fallen form, thrown crumpled
against the ground with the sheer force of its strike.
But he forced himself up. Bones were crying out in pain, but he fought
through it desperately. Crying out, he raised his blade and struck against
the creature's shoulder. The blade shattered against the rough scales, sent
the shock of impact up his arm. He held a broken sword, uselessly, in the
night, and the creature flung him back again, into the tree trunks.
And yet he stood again-- rushed forward, throwing his full weight into the
attack, forcing the ragged edge of the broken blade into the tensing arm
It pulled its leg back, began to rear and rise into the sky. The beating of
the wings sent waves of air spilling out over the ground, that trembled in
It rose, slow and stately, turning towards its attacker once more. The arms
of the trees shook, the sapling pines nodding vigorously in the night.
And without thinking, he seized the pommel of the broken blade, buried
firmly in the flesh, and vaulted himself onto the creature's back.
The wind rushed by with a new force, as they it rushed away from the earth.
He didn't look up as the ground receded, pulled back further and further
until his crossbow lying on the ground was like a child's toy on the soil.
Struggling against the speed of the wind around him, trying to hold his
place, he pulled his dagger from his belt, dragging himself up the
shoulders to the short length of its muscled neck, which was covered in a
black, razor-edged crest of bone.
There was just the sensation of speed, of movement-- tree branches beat
against his back as they pulled through them and above. Each strike was a
punctuating accent in a symphony of pain.
The mountainside rolled out below them like a majestic tapestry, the
plutonian beauty of nighttime snow filling the whole world with white. The
sky was a grey blanket of mist, gathering at the mountaintops. The empty
hulks of the fallen skyscrapers stood tiny and empty and useless dwarfed by
the magnificence of everything beyond the ruined city, the rolling fields,
the wide stretching space of the forests beyond them.
But he could only see black scales and feel the force of the wind as it
rose. It hung low over the mountain, and he struggled, felt his fingers
weakening on their grip. Before he could lose it, he forced himself
forward, crawling up agonizingly on the crest bones, reaching out with a
frozen hand and seizing them hard. He felt them cut the skin, and his blood
ran down his wrists. But he pulled ahead, hoisting himself forward on his
shattered sword hilt.
He reached for the eye socket, the one he had missed in the very beginning.
It seemed so long ago.
The air rushed passed him, and for just a moment he looked up.
He saw the brilliance of the world all around, of the stretching landscape
full of snow and riddled all through with the hairline glowing network of
veins-- the key inhuman holding the hills to the earth. Clutching the
stones close in its grip so the mountains wouldn't come crashing down to
the barren hills.
And he drove the blade down, and the back twitched, jolted. He was thrown
back, lost his grip, only to catch hold of his sword hilt with swift
But the second of the violent death-throes threw him back into the night
sky, and the soaring view disappeared as he was falling, thrown from the
collapsing back, gathering speed until he struck headlong into the
He felt the splintering impact of the rocks before the darkness took him.
She was so beautiful and small.
Like a glowing speck in the distance of his vision.
He had been lying beneath the tower, that rose straight into the sky like a
mad woman's dreams. He had fallen-- fallen down again to the ground-- he
was forever fallen and broken with the impact of the earth.
She had bled light into the sky, and it poured over everything, spreading
out through the portals and the breaking streets. But he didn't know, lying
there-- it wasn't death. It was just light.
He may have been dreaming, he had thought at the time. The familiar dreams
of mountains falling and radiance breaking on the earth like waves.
Presentiments of that one moment, lost in the misty eternity between what
was real and those fleeting seconds of nebulous uncertainty.
And there as always something of sweetness in the memory-- because he had
seen her, the flowing green beauty of her and hadn't yet known what it
meant. Didn't know, dazed on the pavement-- didn't understand.
He had been in love with destruction, before that, as surely as he could
now admit that he had been in love with her.
Because she was small-- because she was her sister's. Because of her sheer
certainty that she was something terrible-- her strangely somber surety
that she could understand the evil that lurked beyond their reach and had
finally stolen her away.
And something about that made him lose connection with himself, and the
green light, when she dissolved away into the flowing glow, that seemed be
alien even as it was coldy comforting.
But in that one small moment, he hadn't known. He hadn't known what had
happened, hadn't known the cost of his fall. But ever afterwards, he did.
Every moment afterwards, the glowing light reminded him.
Even in his dreams.
When his eyes fluttered open once more, it was snowing steadily through the
arms of the trees.
The gentle flakes floated into his vision like tiny stars falling, forever
falling with a fluttering grace to the earth. They gathered there in a
delicate carpet over the ground, and over his body, broken and bleeding on
He smiled slightly into the sky, from where his head rested on the frozen
earth. The snowflakes fell on his forehead. Cold. Soothing against the
bloody, broken skin.
The pain seemed more distant, now. It had settled into that wintry, fading
calm. The screaming of his broken limbs was numbing. He wasn't sure, but he
thought he couldn't move his legs. A spine injury.
That was ironic.
The night crackled with the sound of smoldering brush, the distant heat of
it melting the frozen mud and making the flames smoke and burn low. The air
filled with choking black smoke, and the stench of the dragon's searing
He couldn't see the fire over the hulking mass of it, crumpled broken
across the rocks. All that magical fury, just flesh now. The green,
beautiful light rolled off of it like beads of water, abandoning the
lifeless flesh and trailing back into the earth again. He strained to focus
his eyes so he could watch it.
It moved slowly at first, sliding gracefully in trails down the dark flesh
and rolling then across the ground-- spreading out like roots, moving in
fractal patterns of immense complexity and profound poetry. They joined the
tree roots and climbed up the tree trunks to trail in circles around the
And he was content to lie there on the ground, and watch the moving glow.
It flowed in ripples across the tufts of grass clinging to the tree roots.
Melted into shining pools and flowed like water over the fallen leaves. It
cast green projections on the snow, illuminated the shapes of the pine
It was flowing away from the dragon, returning to the earth. It had
sustained its weight, made it possible for its giant body to fly. The
dragon had been as magical as it was deadly. But now the black blood
coagulated on the ground, and nothing remained of magic there.
The fire loomed brighter in a rim around the dragon, a strange gold halo
crowned in jewels of green. He was sure now that he was paralyzed at his
waist, and wouldn't be able to move. Not for months. He knew it, knew it
and calmly accepted it.
And he knew the people here were afraid-to afraid to slay their own
monsters. And that meant no one was going to come for him.
But the flames crackled in the middle distance, and he listened to them and
to the wind and the rustling sound of snow falling on moving branches.
Perhaps the fire would take him, before he could crawl from its path. And
if it didn't, he would lie here on the mountain side, and waste away into a
That seemed worse, somehow. To fade away and to sleep forever beside the
dry bones of the mythic dragon. To be lost in the cold and the dark until
the crows smelled his blood and gathered to feed from him.
The snow spilled over him like a gentle explosion of down feathers, and
everything was slow in his vision, everything was peaceful and quiet after
the savage violence that left him shattered here.
He smiled, again, slightly. All is calm. All is bright.
He had strained his head forward to look out into the green flow of light,
but his vision began to swim before him as his skull swelled with nauseous
pain. He let his head fall down again on the ground. It rolled to the side,
his cheek pressed firmly against the cold ground. Pine needles tickled his
jawline through the snow.
And the world shrank even smaller. No longer a mountainside clearing. Just
a patch of earth. The root of a tree, the slope of a snowy incline. And the
light that began to pour down over them both and flow in weaving patterns
towards his body.
And he felt a suddenly desperate need to reach out to that light, that had
accompanied him so long. And he regretfully wished that he'd talked to her,
more, over the years. Even if she couldn't hear. She was empty-- inhuman.
But even through this, she was like him, with him.
For he was inhuman, too.
"D--" he spat, the blood flowing newly through his throat and choking his
words. He coughed on them, and strained a broken hand forward, the pain
scraping at his nerves and piercing him through with a thousand knives.
But he had to reach out. He needed to touch her, when he felt sure, now,
that he'd touch no one else again.
"Dawn..." he whispered hoarsely, "Dawn..."
The light sank into the earth and welled towards his stretching fingers.
Just another inch.
"Sorry..." he choked out, cringing with the pain, but straining still.
"Sorry I... couldn't do better for you..."
And the light finally welled beneath his fingertips, flowed under his palm
as immutably as the currents of the ocean. It rolled down the tiny slope
and underneath him, and past him into the darkness. He was surrounded in
And he didn't see what had happened at first, because he had shut his eyes,
a moment, to try to remember what they had all looked like. His people.
And when his eyes opened again. He stared in stark awe.
A thin tendril of glowing light was winding around his fingertips. It
raised in the air, wrapping his hand in complicated patterns, wending its
way across the wrist and around it.
It recognized him.
He couldn't react, couldn't speak. He felt his throat constricting with
years of unrecognized emotion as it moved across his arm.
When it slid across his arm's wounds, he felt a thrill of electric energy
as it slid beneath the torn flesh.
And the gashes closed... he felt a strange sensation as the bones pushed
together again. Painful, but beyond hurt and beyond words. Tears fell down
his face unchecked now, and he felt the immense strength, the deep,
benevolent power behind the glowing green hands of light. He understood--
really finally understood its nature at last.
It wasn't impersonal. It was her. It was *really* her. And it was more than
just her... She wasn't less than a person. She was beyond personality.
And it moved in his veins and he could feel it-- he could feel the energy,
like pure hope. It filled him with a vitality he'd long forgotten. Or that
he'd never, ever known. And it burned, it burned like crosses and sunlight
and he knew it was breaking him apart, cell by cell, and weaving those
pieces together once more. It hurt more than anything he'd ever known and
filled him with a sudden knowledge of everything he'd lost.
And the shattered vertebrae molded together and it brushed against his
face, like burning fingertips. And it was like a sudden intake of breath as
it darted through his lips.
And he was standing. Though he didn't remember standing. And he could see
everything as she now saw it-- the humming of the trees, waiting dormant
for the chance to bud. The heartbeats of the birds asleep on their
branches. The running of mice in burrows below the earth.
And the light swelled, and moved widely across the ground. And in a single
flash, it had receded away into the night.
He stood, alone, staring out with wet eyes. The great mass of green
brilliance was gone. Only the narrow veins of it that were natural to the
The snow fell softly all around him, and gathered in quiet drifts at his
Sophia was standing in the main hallway, staring at the broken locker. The
door had fallen off its hinges where he'd kicked it off, and seized his
weapons. She didn't expect him to return.
But even as she thought it, the dogs were suddenly barking, and the
disharmonious cacophony made her jump. And she ran to the door, even as she
was afraid of what she might find outside.
Throwing it open, the snow blasted in at her, pulling at her hair.
He was standing at the foot of the stone stairs.
She could only stare at him. He was afire-- completely covered with the
He dragged the mighty arm of the dragon, roughly severed, behind him,
holding it up against his shoulder. Its claws raked against the snowy
The image flickered in the torch light, and against his piercing eyes.
Continued in Part Twenty: Cries Softly of the Time Before