Chapter Four

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~4~

 I have been here before, thought Litnig Jin. This is the same dream.

He stood on a stone disc the gray of a winter sky. His head rang. His arms felt heavy and slow, his legs glued to the stone. He could hear the thready beating of his heart, and he tasted the acrid tang of burning metal. There was no sky above him, no earth below. Nothing but the disc and heavy clouds of thick, solid darkness that swirled and tumbled around it like ink suspended in water. Bursts of purple and indigo and gray flashed sporadically around him, so dim he could barely be certain he saw them at all.

It had only been hours since he’d left the Old Temple. Only slightly longer since he’d had the first dream of his life.

And already he was dreaming again.

The disc felt hollow and fragile beneath his feet, like a wafer of flagstone over a hidden sinkhole. Tiny ridges covered its surface. A square pillar of dusty stone rose into shadow a yard or so away from him. The pillar was as wide as his arms could reach and as tall as a house.

He remembered it from his first time in the dream. It was connected to whatever had woken him up sweating and afraid.

Pieces of broken chain lay scattered around the base of the pillar. Ten or twenty feet beyond it, he could see the edge of the disc.

Think, he told himself. Reason, but it was hard.The darkness seethed back and forth around the disc like water on some great shore. It called to him, as familiar as an old lullaby and as terrifying as if it were sung from rotting, cancerous lips.

Litnig turned in a slow circle. Two other pillars formed a loose triangle with the third around the center of the disc, tall and carved with looping black symbols that meant nothing to him. The broken chains lay at the foot of the closest pillar. He knelt to touch a link, and it crumbled into dust.

He swallowed limply. The broken chains twinkled in front of him and he remembered the scream earlier in the night, the sound of metal shearing, the feeling of something giving in his chest. He shuddered.

The disc rumbled like thunder.

The clouds beyond the pillar churned and tumbled, and then a white statue of a man stood at the edge of the disc, staring at him.

The statue wore trousers and a loose-cut shirt, tall boots, a heavy greatcoat, and it had Litnig’s height, his breadth, his ears and eyebrows and mouth. Its eyes shone bright and hazy in silver light that seemed to leak as much as shine from it. It could have been carved from a block of marble, or soap, or alabaster, a hundred different shades of bluish-white.

And it could move.

The statue closed its eyes, opened them, smiled thickly and clenched and unclenched its hands. Think, Litnig told himself. What was left of his dinner slid from side to side in his gut. The statue walked toward one of the pillars, its boots scraping on the disc as it moved. Litnig’s heart pounded.

It doesn’t look like me, he thought. Not exactly. The face was different. Its nose was broader, its cheeks higher, its forehead smaller. It had moles and wrinkles where he did not.

It crooked its finger and beckoned him forward. He swallowed and obeyed. The statue wasn’t out to hurt him. Somehow, in the muddled, hazy logic of the dream, he knew that, like he knew in the real world that when the air was cold and damp a storm was coming.

When he reached the statue, it pointed him toward the pillar, and he spotted the thing that had scared him out of the dream earlier that night.

A perfect black copy of the white statue stood chained to the gray block with its arms across its chest, facing the edge of the disc and the darkness beyond. Its eyes hung in shadow, half-turned from Litnig and the white statue as if it was afraid of the light. Its eyebrows were drawn down, its mouth locked in a grimace. Its neck muscles bulged in high relief and its fingers gripped its shoulders tightly. At its feet lay more of the broken links Litnig had seen before, but heavy chains the color of wrought iron still bound it.

Litnig turned back to the white statue to find it walking away from him.

Wait! he called. The word came from above, like Yenor S’himself had spoken it from the void. The white statue turned back to face him with its eyes wide and pitying.

The statue looked at Litnig, and Litnig looked at it, and then it stepped from the disc into the darkness beyond.

Litnig stared numbly after it and wrapped his arms around his torso.

Think, he told himself. Reason. But his mind was muddy, and his head hurt. He turned back to the statue on the pillar.

It had moved.

Its eyes were still shut, but its face had turned toward Litnig and the corners of its mouth had tugged up in a wicked smile. Its fingers were spread, and one of its arms was partially extended, like it had been ready to reach out and touch him.

He swallowed. That was what frightened me before. It moved. He could feel the fear roiling in his blood again, telling him to run, to wake up and get as far away as he could, but he fought it.

It’s just a dream, he told himself, though some part of him whispered that it was more than that and he knew it. He took a step toward the statue. Then another.

Nothing happened. The dark thing stood motionless in its chains. Litnig’s feet crunched over the broken metal links at the pillar’s base. A slight breeze pulled the hair from left to right atop his head.

Touch it, whispered something in his mind, and he trailed his fingers across its arm. The stone felt smooth, warm, almost like skin. The fear in him melted away and was replaced by something else.

Anger, he realized.

At what he couldn’t say, but it raced through his veins like wildfire, and he yanked his hand back before he lost himself in it completely.

A shiver ran over the top of his skull. His chest tingled. The anger passed and the warmth bled out of him and soon he was cold once more. He turned to look for the white statue in the darkness and willed his heart to slow down, breathing as slowly and as calmly as he could. The disc rumbled again. The darkness tumbled and shifted.

He felt eyes on his back.

When Litnig turned around again, the statue on the pillar’s eyes were open, wide and almond-shaped and the angry, shifting red of the darkest coals in a fire.

And it was moving.

The statue raised its chin from its chest, fixed its eyes on Litnig’s and bared black, sharpened teeth. A thousand frightened thoughts tried all at once to run through Litnig’s mind and the thing lunged forward, strained against its chains and opened its mouth in a violent, soundless snarl. Litnig jerked back, caught his heel on some raised part of the disc. He tried to pivot, but he couldn’t move fast enough, lost his balance, fell ugly and awkward and fast. His head struck the disc. The statue was yanking at its chains above him, trying to break them, trying to get to him—

There was a painful flash of light and the rumble of thunder again. A hand squeezed his shoulder, and he shut his eyes. The dream started to fade. He heard the deep voice with its command again.

Everything will be all right, it said. Bring your brother.

Then his head hit the disc and his eyes snapped shut. He had the sensation of turning a somersault, and then he woke in his bed.

His right hand clutched his left shoulder. The window was open. The alley outside it looked gray and ghostly. His pulse thundered. His mouth tasted of sour panic. He sat up and remembered the eyes of the statue, its long, sharpened teeth, saw it lunge for him over and over in his mind.

It was a long, long time before Litnig fell asleep again.

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