While we drive away from the village I look at Lazarus, he is lying unconscious on the floor of the van. He doesn’t look like anything special. He looks in his late –thirties, tanned skin. His dark hair frames a strong face and a full moustache proud upon his lip, but nothing marks him as out of the ordinary.
Except maybe the gaping hole in his chest that even in gloom of the van I can see it knitting itself slowly back together. Incredible rhymes with miracle and I can see why.
As agreed in the plan, we’ve injected him with a cocktail of drugs, most are from the Friar to keep him unconscious and pliable. My contribution is the LSD and the ecstasy. The LSD will keep his mind busy, hopefully enough to confuse his concentration so I can get into his mind without too much of a battle. The ecstasy will also help unbalance him, and mellow any internal strife he might otherwise conjure up. The head rushes will also help to throw him off balance, I know they did for me on my first time.
It will take half hour for the drugs to really kick in, so I don’t make any aggressive move just yet. I do have a peek at his mind, to gauge his defences. I am surprised to see his mind is wrapped in shifting coils of multicoloured strands. It’s a kaleidoscope of shimmering colour, like snakes, the strands twist through and around each other. This doesn’t look like the type of shield I have practiced against. This man is unconscious and still he creates this protection for himself.
“Impressive, most impressive” to quote a great man after my own heart.
Glancing out of the back window of the van I see from the angle of the sun that we are not heading back to the farm. I turn to the Friar and ask him where we are going. “We’re going to the monastery we visited yesterday. The monks there can help shield us while you do your job. It is a revered holy place and official local interference will be minimised. While we add an understanding with the local forces, I don’t want to rely on it. ” He replied.
“Don’t worry, we’ll all be well protected there.”
Always with the worry, but in this instance he may be right, I am a little bit worried. I hadn’t all together believed the tale that the Friar had told me. I had expected that Lazarus may have been a gifted person, maybe even someone like me. Not this, thing on the floor in front of me. A man shaped miracle healing himself while unconscious and drugged. And not just healing a modest wound, but stitching together a hole that would have killed pretty much anything that walks.
It’s definitely interesting, and it would be more of a challenge than I had expected. That’s fine.
I take another peek at his defences as the van begins to climb the track to the monastery. The drugs appear to be kicking in, I can see more confusion and less organisation in the squirming mass. From the slight twitching in his fingers I can see that he is trying to fight the effects. That is good, that is exactly what I want him to be doing.
I nod to the Friar and tell him that it is time for another dose, without comment he injects the contents of another syringe into Lazarus. For anyone else we wouldn’t need to do anything else as that would be enough to kill him.
As soon as we pull up outside the monastery, the side door of the van is opened. Two of the soldiers jump out and pull Lazarus’ body onto a waiting trolley. The rest of us disembark and follow them into the monastery itself. The body is taken to a small chapel. I get an uncomfortable feeling as we enter. Probably just the excitement.
I take one of the available chairs and make myself comfortable. I can see that he is now up on the drugs we have pumped into him. I look at the flowing strands and start to peel away at his defences. It’s difficult, very difficult. At first I try probing, searching as I had learnt for the imperfections. The constant movement prevents this approach, so I try teasing at the strands, loosening one so I can tug it free. As I pull it snaps and disappears. I keep doing this, but the destroyed strands must be regenerated, I can see no lessening of the coiling mess.
I try gripping a clump of the strands to pull them free, but the mass will not move. I try with smaller clumps, eventually finding a weakness and snapping dozens of the wormlike threads. They recreate themselves as quickly as before. I sigh and pull back, just watching for a moment the shifting threads. I can see no pattern, no weakness that I can exploit. They cover the surface of his mind, following the contours of his head. That gives me an idea.
I take a look at the body, turn to the Friar and ask “Are you sure you don’t just want to stake him out in the desert and drop a nuke on him?” I would love to see that. Awesome wouldn’t even come close. The Friar is not going for it though, he just tells me to get on with it. I nod, stand and approach Lazarus and with a swift movement jab my finger through his eye.
The sudden physical contact strikes below the tendrils that defend him and I’m able to surge my awareness through this gap. The snakes try to react to this unexpected intrusion, but I pour more of myself in, blocking their counterattack. While pushing from the inside I also tear away at them from the outside, a two pronged attack that brings success and I am in.
Initially the landscape of his mind is a raging maelstrom, a stormy sea of chaos beneath my feet. Lazarus sense my presence and the seas flatten leaving me standing on an ocean of glass. Looking down at the surface there are no ripples as I walk and my reflection is a distorted figure. I walk forwards, the direction is unimportant, just a metaphor for travelling deeper. Above me dark storm clouds begin to gather.
When the storm breaks there is no rain. There is just lightening and fire. Lazarus has unleashed his fury upon, using fire and storm to drive me from his psyche. My pain is sudden and immense. The lightening lashes at me. I can feel my form weakening, convulsing with the electric barbs.
Tongues of flames lash against me, searing agony flashes across my entire being. I struggle forwards, defying the forces that rage against me. Gritting my teeth I continue onwards, but the pain is too much. I fall, the glassy surfaces a refection storm of fire and darkness.
This isn’t real.
The pain is too real. The flames eat at my flesh, even my bones feel molten. All I can feel is Lazarus’ wrath unleashed upon me.
It isn’t real.
My skin is blackened and blistered, it is cracked and I can see the rawness beneath. Lightening lances from the sky, striking me over and over again. I try to rise, but another strike slams me down.
I can’t even crawl, the pain is too much. Every strike of lightening convulses me, tearing the burnt flesh with a new wave of agony. My strength is fading, I cannot move any further. This isn’t right, his mind is broken how could he be defeating me so easily.
This is his mind, his rules. It’s no good trying to match his strength in his own world, another approach is needed. I shut myself off from the pain, let it become a background thing. It beckons me, strangely beguiling, but I must ignore it. Fighting the pain is a battle of attrition I cannot win, but the cause of the pain is another matter.
I focus what remains of my will and push. There is no response, I must try harder. I push again and there it is, a tiny breeze. The draft of air fans the flames, biting deeper, but that’s ok. That extra pain is a reward for my efforts. Another push and the draft strengthens to a breeze. Screaming with the effort I push again, the breeze now driving into a wind that makes the flames dance. Up above the movement of the clouds has slowed. I push again, forcing the wind into a gale that blows out the fire and starts to break up the storm clouds.
Triumphantly I let the burnt flesh fall from my bones, watching it disintegrate as it hits the ground, I reshape my form around my now gleaming skeleton and with a satisfied smile, walk on.
There wasn’t a palace, but now there is. It is an obscene mismatch of opulence. In part a colonial mansion, in others a sultan palace,. I could even see the shapes from European fortresses of the Bavarian style. Huge and loathsome it exudes wealth and power. The door is open.
Inside the mix of styles continues, a confusion of luxury. A leery voice bids me welcome as I step through the entrance. The hall before me is massive, you could land a plan in this room. It is dominated by marble stairs leading up to the next level. Positioned around the walls are sculpted podiums, each with a bust of the rich and famous from throughout history.
These are nothing compared to what you could be, that teasing whisper.
At the base of the stairs stands a woman. She is beautiful and sultry, I pause a moment as I realise that it is Ms Clarke. A perfected version formed by desire’s memory, not by clumsy sight. There she stands, my treasured conquest from all those years ago. She is as beautiful and as willing as she ever was. The voice invites me to take her, this lovely creature who once filled me with delights. I kiss the woman’s full lips, savouring the sweet taste of them, before mounting the steps and continuing on.
At the top of the staircase, my feet sink into the deep, lush carpet. I am filled with heady scents. The voice travels with me. Indulge in my desires it tells me. This house and everything and everyone in it is yours. I smile a little at that thought.
At the top of the stairs another woman waits, a younger form of my mother. She can take care of me, soothe the pain in my soul. More promises from this insidious voice. I kiss her tenderly on the cheek , I feel a momentary pang of grief and walk on.
On this floor the walls are hung with paintings. Delightful works from all of the ages. All around are images famous from hundreds of galleries and museums. Treasures that should be mine the voice insists.
This isn’t real, I smile. But it can be real, the voice asserts.
Onwards I walk, heading deeper into the house. I follow the corridor that winds through impossible angles. I am lost in this maze of decadence. At each turn a new woman awaits, each more lovely than the last. All shades of humanity’s loveliness is represented. All shapes are catered for. I am engulfed by this temptation of riches and luxury. I am bombarded by these seductions of the flesh. I like this place, if it was real I could be tempted, but I know it is a trap. I must seek the end of the maze, somewhere there is an exit.
Lazarus will have to do better than this. I could have these delights in the real world. I have no need for the imagined indulgences.
I can hear his rage, it is distant and all around me. The corridor before me stretches beyond my sight. I keep walking. I must maintain momentum, he cannot hide from me forever.
When the voice finally becomes silent the exit appears, a simple wooden door set in the frescoed wall. Without hesitation I walk through it.
The desolation strikes me.
A featureless grey desert stretches before me. An endless sea of despair that I must cross. A new voice, the same voice, but no longer full of promise, it is now leaden with sadness. There is no end, it promises. There is no help. I will remain forever alone, without even torment for company. I trudge through the grey ash, each step a new weight that slows me down.
Above me is a blank grey sky, in the grey desert there are no landmarks. When I turn round I can see that not even my footsteps are visible. There is nothing to catch the eye but horizon that encircles me. I must continue, the voice says why bother? What will change? You can never reach the other side of this place. Here is where all hope comes to die.
Your strength cannot help you here, it is sapped by the shroud of despair that covers you. The voice is persuasive, with its sadness I feel a little of my will drained. You wanted to die, it says, just lie down. There will be no pain. I ignore the voice, it is the voice of a trickster, so onwards I walk. To stop is to die, I cannot stop.
That lonely, weak voice continues to whisper, it reminds me of the terrible things that have happened. It tells me of my failures, of hopes destroyed. In this it has erred, those hopes were not my hopes. I have known sadness, but it didn’t kill me then and it won’t kill me now. As for misery, I hear it likes company, so let’s get on with it.
Again there is that howl of rage. A fury that tears through the sky. It is music to my ears.
The deserts stretches ever onwards, but in the haze before me I can see a shape take form.