Damian Ashelocke told me this particular Tale of the Navel: The Shadow Forest in response...
Beams of sunshine peeked through the clouds, turning purple streaked with beams of gold, releasing a riot of rose across the sky.
“The clouds remind me of your eyes.” It was only to easy to imagine Christopher at my side, murmuring this comment while I applied my brush to a canvas. “Your spirit seems to leap there, yet I know it’s right here with me.”
“You can only be sure of these things in the real world.” By replying, by acknowledging this shade of Christopher, I only made it more real. “I might actually be up there, or part of me.”
“Putting yourself in the heavens where you can look down at us all?” It was no longer Christopher, my memories of the wind speaking.
This sharp, sardonic tone belong to someone solid enough to possess an individual voice. “If you can spare a moment to stomp contemplating your grandeur above and look below? I need help finding my keys.”
“Peter.” I turned to face my scowling rival for Christopher’s affection. A frown didn’t suit his generous lips, rounded cheeks, and colorful attire, but what can I say? I’m special to him. “Weren’t you supposed to return to Omphalos and Gabrielle to wait for Christopher?”
“Which Omphalos? There are so many.” He turned, full burgundy vest flapping around his red tunic, kicking up pebbles as he twirled around, pointing at the distant hill.
Sometimes it had one tower with a crown which appeared and disappeared in a cloud of lightning. Sometimes it had two, one of bleached bone white stone and shimmering black rock. Sometimes it had a ring of standing stones, a giant’s jagged teeth.
I turned away from the hill, not wishing to look closer. My chest constricted every time I saw it.
“Don’t you like our masterpiece, the culmination of so many versions of Omphalos, reflected in this dreamscape?” Peter flipped his hair, allowing his auburn curls to bounce. “Don’t be sure I’m here. The real me might be lying in my warm bed, crying into my pillow because I abandoned Christopher as you did.”
“I didn’t abandon him.” The words tasted foul in my mouth, making me want to spit them out. “I gave him my life in exchange for the Shadow Forest.”
“Yes, you were upfront about your intentions. You’re such an upstanding individual, you perfect prick.” Peter wagged a finger at me. “Maybe Christopher didn’t want your life. Did you ever stop to consider that?” He raised his hand to push an auburn curl out of a fierce dark eyes. “Perhaps I can’t leave you alone since I’m just another part of you, abandoned in your quest for power. Alone and forgotten, I’m unable to forget you, much as I might wish to.”
I recoiled at this. Impossible. There was nothing familar about this foppish youth with his clean shaven face and russet locks. The velvet vest he wore brought back unpleasant memories of the garden…
…and dressing in such garments myself on the orders of my Aunt Duessa.
“Ah, your vanity is the one thing I can count on.” Peter took a step back, waving a hand in a dismissive fashion over my head, torso, and heads. “You actually believe that might be true. That I’m nothing more than a lost fragment of yourself.” He put his hands on his hips in a fashion which reminded me of my aunt or Van, only Peter had but two arms. “It never crossed your mind that you might be a lost fragment of myself?” A yellow glint glittered in his brown irises, turning them golden. “All the anger, arrogance, and memories I no longer desired I might have pushed into a form I lost all delight in.”
“That’s not possible.” In truth, I wasn’t sure. I had memories as Damian Ashelocke, but who was to say they were truly mine?
Somewhere out there, a boy with green eyes was walking around with some of my lost memories along with the light I’d abandoned.
“Relax. I’m only teasing you.” Peter dropped to his knees, searching a lump of grass. “I’m just trying to find my lost keys. I can’t return home without them.”
“What lost keys?” I knelt, facing him. I studied the small mound of grass between us, covered with flowers.
Here in the Shadow Forest, if you wished for something, it came to you. Sure enough, there were tiny petals in the shape of keys, red, purple, blue, and rose.
“Juno. Hebe. Gryluxx. Those were my keys’s names.” He reached out to touch a pinkish violet petal with a trembling finger. “Christopher.” He met my eyes. “Damian. We came here to find you.”
“Did you?” I glanced at the purple, key-shaped blooms. “Only you and Christopher found me. Everyone else must have wanted something else.”
“Their paths took them in directions different than mine. I guess this means I’m free of them, the bindings they set upon me.” Peter rose to his feet, towering over my crouching form. “Juno was your aunt’s spy. Perhaps you guessed that.”
“I did.” I stood up on unsteady legs, looking him in the eye. “How is Aunt Duessa?”
Peter had the look of one who’d been kissed by Duessa Ashelocke. It was there in his dreamy expression which spread over his face at her name. I could see it in the way his shoulders slumped, the hint of liquid yearning in his eyes.
“Dangerous, hungry, and seductive.” Peter brushed his face with his sleeve. “She almost had me as one of her valentines. She would have if Christopher hadn’t saved me.”
“It sounds like she hasn’t changed any more than Christopher has.” I glanced up at the sky, those twisting, multicolored clouds, reflecting lost colors in the pools and ponds of this place. “She’d better watch herself.”
“For you’re coming for her with all of the power of the Shadow Forest?” Peter smirked, not bothering to hide his contempt. “Ooo, you’re so terrifying, Damian Ashelocke.”
“Maybe I’m not, but Dyvian is.” I started walking down my path, a path I’d been careful not leave when I examined the grass. “He’s much more willing than I ever was to work with and sacrifice others to achieve his goals, to create a utopia.” I cocked my head back to offer Peter a smirk of my own. “Much like Duessa herself.”
“What do you mean?” Peter trotted along the path, catching up to me. The road widened beneath our feet to accomodate both of us.
“He’s discovered that faith, will, and hope can be the keys to making shadows and dreams a reality. Through Christopher and those pretty twins of yours, he’s learned how to anchor them in a solid form beyond the Door.” Damian glanced at his companion. “Of course you knew that already, Peter. Or should I call you Seraphix?”
“Well, well.” Peter/Seraphix stopped to rumple his auburn curls in a fussy way. “What gave my identity away?”
“Only a creature made of fragments of myself could walk my path through the Shadow Forest at my side.” I glanced down at the pebbles beneath my shoes and his boots. “You weren’t lying when you said I was a part of you.”
“You may be a prick, Damian Ashelocke, but you’re a clever prick.” Peter/Seraphix clapped his hands together with boyish glee. “I can see why you made my Christopher swoon.”
“He’s not your Christopher.” I studied his smiling face, his bright, hungry eyes. “Tell me, was Peter ever a real person? Or was a mask you assumed to get close to Gabrielle and Christopher.”
“Oh, Peter was quite real. Along with his attachment to your ‘Brie and Christopher, which created quite the indignation over the way you abandoned them.” He wagged a finger at me in reproval. “He was right, too. They were splendid individuals. You were a fool not to appreciate them.”
“You, I suppose, don’t intend to make the same mistake.” I clenched my hands into fists.
“Of course not.” Peter/Seraphix tossed his head. “For me, they’re my ultimate goal, my Happily Ever After. Particularly Christopher.”
“What do you mean?” Damian took a step closer to the creature who wore a human face and played a godling.
He reached up to finger a coin hanging on a cord around his wrist. Only it wasn’t there.
Why would it be? Damian had never worn such a thing. “What are you going to do with them?”
“Guess you’ll just have to wait and find out.” Peter stepped off the road. “It may require you leaving your path to do so. Are you brave enough for that, Damian Ashelocke?” The godling made a mocking bow. “Lord Stefan never was, nor your aunt for all their vaunted power within their realms. Only Christopher had the courage to do so.”
With those words, Seraphix vanished from sight. His, no, their voice remained, ringing in the air. “He’s stolen himself from the shadows. Are you bold enough to steal him back?”
Peter laughed, Dyvian joining him, along with a host of other voices. They cackled as one, delighting in a joke I wasn’t part of.
“This is what is happening.” A quieter voice, like my own, only softer, whispered within his own dreams, floating through the air. “Please, I’m begging you. Save him, Damian.” The dreamer turned in his sleep. I could feel his movement on the other side of the Door, a barrier which disappeared in slumber. He murmured his plea into his pillow, which carried through a crack in reality. “Save my little brothers.”
The voice vanished when Leiwell awoke, severing the connection between us.
“You’re still part of me, Leiwell, even across worlds.” Something raw and savage stirred within me, twisting my lips into a smile. “It looks like I haven’t abandoned reality after all, even if I’m no longer in it.”