Kirya lay, sprawled and inert, against the wall of Aera's chamber, where she had been flung. Tarn stood in the centre of the room, turning slowly in a circle to take in his surroundings and find his bearings. Akila was at his feet in a pool of her own blood, while Eris was frozen in the motion of scrambling away from the murder. Aera stood with her hands clasped against Tarn's head, while smoke and sparks hung immobile in the air, caught in their brief moments of existence.
Tarn looked at his own face, marvelling at seeing himself without the restrictions of a mirror's reflection. He took a few steps, examining the connection between Aera's hands. This is what had happened, he knew, though he wasn't able to directly remember it. Reaching out, he was surprised to find that he could touch the vision; everything about him was tangible, even in the form of this lifeless tapestry. He brushed a hand over his hair, then, curious, pulled one of Aera's hands away. A flicker of blue static arced between her palm and his temple. A cascade of blood formed a stationary red waterfall in the air between Aera's wound and the floor.
Moving away from the violent diorama at the centre of the chamber, he crossed to where Kirya lay, smoke dispersing as he pushed through it and embers fizzling away to nothing as he touched them. She was crumpled, her limbs at odd angles, and blood had leaked from her eyes, ears and nose. She was not breathing, but then neither were any of the others. Tarn carefully moved her body onto its back, laying her head onto the floor and adjusting her arms and legs to more comfortable positions.
Unsure of what to do, Tarn took her hand in his, then brushed her cheek with his other had. Blood smeared across her skin. He touched her scalp, where her hair had grown back an inch and was spiky and thick. It occurred to him that he'd never touched somebody's head before - at least, not tenderly.
Her hand tensed and gripped his tight, then her eyes snapped open and she jerked awake, staring wildly first at him, then at the chamber which remained otherwise trapped in its captured moment.
"How are you here?" she rasped, struggling to talk. "Who are you?"
Surprised by her awakening as well as her confusion, Tarn smiled and held her head carefully, so that she didn't crack it on the floor. "I came back for you," he said. "There's a lot we need to talk about, but first I needed to wake you up."
Kirya's eyes narrowed and she looked past him to the scene in the middle of the chamber.. "Why are we still here?"
"I don't know. This is where it happened, so perhaps it's the last place you knew? I don't really understand how all this works."
Pushing herself up into a seated position, Kirya rubbed gingerly at her forehead. "I still don't understand how you're able to be here. That shouldn't be possible."
He shrugged, then pointed to where Aera could be seen holding his head in her hands. "She did something which meant I got some of her abilities, and memories. It's very strange. I feel like I have two people's lives in my head."
Kirya stared at him, shock slowly turning to an expression of horror. "She transferred to you?"
"I know it wasn't your fault," Tarn said. "That's something she taught me: that you were being controlled."
"Transferring without properly preparing was incredibly risky," Kirya said. "It could have killed you. Should have killed you."
"I think it nearly did."
Kirya swallowed, then smiled wanly and held up her arms for an embrace. "Come here," she said. "I'm so happy you're here."
He leaned in and put his arms around her, so pleased that his friend was alive. All he had to do now was figure out how to wake her up back in the real world. She put her hands to his head and he felt the prickle of electricity as it passed from her palms. Instinctively he grabbed her hands and pulled them away, but she resisted pushing hard and her face contorting with the effort.
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...