Posted on: 2017-11-06 03:53:51 UTC
And suddenly all eyes were on him again. "Right." He took a preparatory drink of water. It was good, and he did need it; he'd have to remember to say something nice to Jenni later. But now, he had said he would do this, and whatever else he was, he was a man who upheld his commitments. "Where was I...?"
"Awake in FicPsych, about to give me conniptions," Jenni said with a half-smile.
"Right," he said again. "Erik, the original Erik, had just left me with his injunction to live ringing in my ears. I wasn't thinking clearly, but I got up and found my few belongings—my boots, my belt, my flight jacket—and I started walking. If you've lived in Headquarters for any amount of time, you know it's nearly impossible to get where you're going if you think about it, but it's equally impossible to get anywhere if you're as empty of purpose and drive as I was. I went on in that fugue state for some time, I don't know how long. At times I slept, and then I would get up and go on again. I saw no one, or if I did, I don't recall... but I felt as though someone, or something, was watching me, guiding my steps.
"I had gone by many doors, all the same, and taken no heed of them, but finally I came to one I could not pass by. This portal that loomed up before me was different from the others. It was large, and I could feel the heaviness of its metal. Something ominous was on the other side, but I wasn't afraid—I was still numb. With no thought of any direction but forward in my mind, I turned its great wheel and stepped inside.
"The door slammed shut behind me, and I was in total darkness. Robbed of vision, I stopped.
"But something could see me. This presence was not sapient, I think, but it had logic and a purpose with me. Everything I was, had been, and might have been was laid bare to it, as though I were as insubstantial as the spoken word. First it looked at me and through me, and then it began to change me."
He had to pause for another sip of water.
"The first thing I knew differently was knowing. Whereas before all I could hold in my mind was my half-life with Alanna in our narrow, ill-begotten mockery of Pern, now I knew my world as it really is. And I knew my real place in it. Not as a Weyrleader, because the leadership of all the Weyrs is well known, but yet a bronzerider, one who chose a life in the untamed Southern Continent during the Ninth Pass. Before that, a harper, and a headstrong, reckless young man."
He shook his head ruefully. "I said I would tell you how I lost my eye twice in one day, and now we come to the point. You've seen my face." He took off the green domino mask so they could get another look. The right side was covered in a sunken, sinusoidal pattern of scars. They extended down the side of his neck, down into his unitard. They'd cut through part of his right eyebrow and left his hairline ragged. They had caused muscle damage and distortion that left the right side of his mouth permanently stretched to the side and unable to properly pull up in a smile. And they had taken the sight from his right eye. "This is Threadscar. This is the hazard we face on Pern, and it is what dragonriders exist to combat. I remember when I got this.
"It was our first Threadfall. No more were Skepnadth and I confined to the ground. At last, we were in the air, where we were meant to be! Our job was to carry firestone to the fighting wings—firestone is the substance that gives a dragon his flame. We had practiced our throw over and over, and we were good at it. We were strong, our power boundless, and our joy fierce. ... Every man thinks he's immortal at nineteen. A Fall lasts four hours, and I began to tire of the heavy goggles on my face. I was hot; sweat dripped into my eyes, and I could hardly see. So, fool that I was, I took them off. Just for a little while, I thought. We were such excellent flyers, what could possibly go wrong?
"A thick tangle of Thread. A gust of wind. Both of us screaming, the sound swallowed in cold between as Skepnadth jumped to safety. We were lucky to live."
He paused. The memory was strong, painful in many ways. But he'd indulged himself in grief quite sufficiently for one night.
"I remember when I got this," he said again, indicating his scars with a nod and a raised cup. "I was standing in the dark with a face belonging to another man. But something looked at me, and saw a dragonman, not a Phantom. It changed me. I felt the sting of something superficial sinking deep into my flesh... and when the door to the Reality Room opened again, I was half-blind, who had been twice blinded. ... And lucky to live."
(( Disclaimer: Derik might be exaggerating about the Reality Room just a tad for poetic effect. But don't go in there if you're at all impossible. ))