I remember the noise of gulls above all else, and yes, the smell of salt, so strong it summons long forgotten memories. There is a norn, silhouetted black against sun behind him and he waves to me: “See you soon.” I am excited, I want to watch him for a little bit longer, a towering figure amongst men as he tows his cart away, wheels juddering and rattling across sea-soaked, sun-bleached boards into the confusing jumble of what had always remained an enigma to my imagination – but the tugging at my shoulder insists we depart. A final glance back and even he, one so tall, is lost to the throng. One day, I will walk by his side and immerse myself in the mystery that is Lion’s Arch. I turn and leave. There is a flash, there is pain; there is a lot of pain.
“Clear the gate! I want the thermo-suppression couplings online, this instant!”
“No, shut it down.”
“Shut it down? Shut it down?! Are you currently striving to maintain relational interaction of space-time during a catastrophic – yes, catastrophic – transition? No! Couplings, now!”
“Over-reacting! Anatomic projectiles passing twenty feet on gate exit is hardly over-reacting, and you want to shut the gate down!”
There is pain, pain and only darkness.
“Is he stable?” The voice is different, quieter, something hums and ticks away in the background; it is dark.
“We sedated him the moment he arrived in the infirmary. He has sustained a number of fractures, most of which appear superficial, although I suspect there will be injuries that come to light, internal bleeding etcetera, and no doubt his cognitive function will be severely impaired – it is too early to tell.”
“What of the device?”
“It has been sent for analysis.”
It is dark.
It is bright and it is too warm as I make my way down the ramp from the gate with father’s ale.
“You know where to go?”
“Yes, mother.” I rest the cart at the foot of the ramp, turn and smile back at her.
“A dozen times yes, the Old Bear will be happy.” My first trip to Lion’s Arch to peddle the Old Bear’s ale. He has not been well, not that he would admit this, and it has fallen to me to fulfil his duty. It is all prearranged, there is a buyer waiting for me and I am itching to be under way.
For one moment I think she is about to head down the ramp herself, but her eyes flit from the collection of asura gates and up, to take in the city beyond. The bewildering ramshackle of salvaged ships given a second purpose teem with colour, noise and life. She hesitates, pulling a shawl about her shoulders as though to ward off a chill. Other travellers arriving through the gate mutter as they step around her.
“Go, mother. I will be fine.”
Nodding, she smiles. “Do not delay, Asbjorn.” And then she is gone. There is a flash and a high-pitched whine, a burning sensation in my hand; there is pain and there is only darkness.
“Progress?” demands a self-important sounding voice.
The second voice sighs. “I deduce the progress as to which you enquire, is to whether answers are forthcoming – they are not. Physically,” the second voice continues, “there are indications of expected constituent function.”
“Then he will live?”
“That is what I said, yes.”
“Will he wake up?”
There is some movement, a shuffling of cloth and the unmistakable sound of a considered pause.
“Well?” demands the voice.
“I do not know. That is to say-”
“Never mind. Conjecture, as they say, is as certain as uncertainty.”
The debate continues, their voices battling back and forth as each one attempts to outdo the other. There is a familiar quality; a voice that comes from the head. “Infallible?”
The voices break off and I can sense something close by. I try to move, but the pain is too much.
“What did he say?”
“He was just mumbling. It was nothing but incoherent babble, the product most likely of random synaptic-”
“Infallible?” I ask again. It is a struggle alone to summon the name from the depths of my memory, never mind speak it.
“Incalculable, did he just say?”
“No, no. Malleable.”
“Phonic construction dictates otherwise. Look at my mouth: Emmm. Emmm. Do you see? The lips are pressed like so.”
I try to reach out as they continue. I can feel my arm, weak as it may be, twitch as pain races along its length. “Infallible Garrom!” I make a grab as I scream out the name, fingers brushing at something that immediately jumps out of the way with a surprised squawk.
Everything is black and there is only pain.
“You are quite certain that you have never seen him before?”
The voices are more distinct now. I recognise this one with his authoritative tone.
“Quite certain.” A new voice, yet it registers somewhere down in the darkness.
“However,” this is the voice of my carer, “our patient had a lucid moment whereupon he called out your name.”
“I can assure you this is a countenance utterly unfamiliar to me.”
“Then explain this!” says the authoritative voice with a theatrical flourish.
“Indeed! If you would be so kind, explain,” adds the carer. “Not so infallible now, eh?”
The new voice sighs. “I cannot be certain, although remnants of the device appear to serve some form of capacitive function, no doubt a short-lived charge with a high energy output. Albeit it is somewhat of a primitive-”
“Enough. Have him held for further questioning.”
“Take him away!”
“Yes, sir!” responds a female voice.
“Now just wait a minute- Hey, get your hands off me!”
A scuffle breaks out, but the protestations of the new third voice recede as he is removed. The room is quiet, although there is still someone here. I imagine it is probably the carer. I wonder if I am being held captive. My grasp on consciousness is starting to slip – Mr Authority, Mr Carer, Mr Suspect and Mrs … what is she, some kind of guard maybe? For a moment it appears that the dark is only grey. I wonder… I wonder where I am. I wonder…
Everything is red. Something has changed. I can feel a cool breeze on my face. My body is talking to me and it is not just pain that I can feel. I feel… stiff, and sore, like I have been lying still for a long time. I think I can… yes. I can feel my fist clench; it feels swollen.
“Hum.” A voice, the carer, is surprisingly close. “It seems that there is someone in there after all. To think that you were scant days from furthering science.”
“…” I cannot talk beyond a strangled gurgle; my throat feels swollen and dry and the muscles do not seem to function.
“Hold on. This is going to smart a bit – actually it is wholly unpleasant – but sadly necessary. Your lung function was clearly struggling and we resolved to support you.”
Something is drawn from my mouth, my throat, and I feel like I am going to be sick. Muscles spasm and a cold fear sets in when it feels as though my breath is being stolen. Then it is over and all I manage is a cough. He is right – it was unpleasant, but a reassuring hand grasps my shoulder giving me something else to focus on.
“Are you going to be sick?” My carer slips his hand beneath the base of my neck, lifting me gently. Something is wrong. I try to rise, and I can, but it is as if everything is not correctly connected.
“Steady now. You are fine, doing just fine, no need to rush these things.”
Red flares to white, a painful white that I have seen before and I know that I do not want to go there again. “No, no… I cannot.” My voice is thin and rasping.
“Steady. All in good time – do you need a bowl?”
Something metallic is placed in my hands. I try to grasp the cool surface but my fingers do not seem to know how. A face looms in front of me. A large head, pointed ears. “Infallible?” I manage to ask.
“Never mind him for the moment,” the carer responds, his tone guarded. “Here, sip some water – just sips mind – you’ve not eaten in days.” I do as he says.
I am sitting now, blinking, and it is so bright. My carer seems to realise this as he asks: “Can you hold yourself still a moment? I will dim the lights.” I nod, losing my balance straight away, only to be grasped again and held upright. “The Eternal be praised – Genni!” he calls out. “Shut off some of these lights. Genni?”
“Yes, yes, coming.” A hurried female voice materialises from the back of the room.
Within moments the light fades and I catch glimpses of a shadowy blur flitting across my vision. I breathe deeply, trying to set myself straight, but even this act alone is enough to send my senses reeling.
The carer grips me with both hands. “Let’s get you back down. There’s no point in rushing these things.” And then as if speaking to himself, “Not that you’re going anywhere, anyway.”
I try to resist, but he is far stronger than me. “Where am I?” I cannot help asking the obvious.
“You don’t remember?”
“I… I do not.”
“Curious, although not completely surprising. You are in Rata Sum – you do know Rata Sum, yes?”
“I do.” It is starting to get dark again. I fight it. “I was travelling… to Lion’s Arch. I was with an ale seller, then…” It is difficult. I cannot seem to recall anything beyond a flash of light and terrible pain. “My mother, she is expecting me back… my father’s ale.” No, that is not right. “Wait-”
“Rest, rest.” Again his hands press down gently on my shoulders, his great head eclipsing the fading light; a shadow against the sun.
“Rest,” he urges again.
This is odd, he does not sound like my father. Perhaps I have been dreaming? It is late, I am tired, very tired and it is getting dark. I should sleep. “Helena, hold me closer.”
A distant voice, which does not belong to Helena, speaks: “Genni? I need to make my reports, perhaps look into this new name he mentioned. Keep a close eye on him. Weak or not, an asura with a feverish mind is still just as versatile and just as dangerous.”