Trip tossed and turned. No matter which way he lay, the ground seemed bumpy underneath him. There was a stone poking up through the fabric of his bedroll and the cold nipped at his nose. He sighed. Victor’s snores seemed to penetrate the entire fabric of reality, never mind anything else.
The story he had told floated in his mind. One of the tricks they had taught him at the Library to take advantage of his memory was to treat each memory as an island, a piece of rock, floating in an infinite dark gulf. Bridges connected the memories, allowing him to see how one linked to another. With a thought, he could fly, run, walk, from one island to another, reviewing the objects and scenes there.
There was an island large in his mind right now. A frozen scene of battle, an army charging; in one corner, an old man sat around a campfire, the flames frozen as if preserved forever in amber. Children stared at him, rapt attention. In the centre of the charge, a woman in green, her robes almost glowing in the darkness. She was looking directly at Trip, away from the scene.
Curious, he moved closer. The woman’s head moved, her eyes locked on his. Trip licked his lips nervously; the scenes were usually completely still. His feet touched down on the soil of the island and he slowly stepped towards the woman.
Impossibly, she began to move towards him. She stepped carefully around the man in front of her, his arms out, a cruel expression on his face; a soldier, his sword out, was mid-swing towards something or other; she placed a hand on the blade of the sword and moved it easily out of the way.
Trip found himself having to step around flailing legs, soil kicked up and caught in mid-air; an ear, randomly, separated from its owner. He frowned. This wasn’t quite right. There’d been no great battle here. The story he had told wasn’t any different to how he had been told it himself, but this was all wrong.
The woman was… beautiful. She was barefoot, her ankles just visible under the hem of her dress, and her long blonde hair swung as she walked. A bright light blazed at her breast, too bright to tell what it was.
Mesmerised, Trip slowed, then stopped. She walked until she was stood in front of him, then stopped.
“Trip,” she said.
“Trip,” she said again. “Trip. Come to me.”
“You’re a memory,” he said. “A memory of a memory. You’re something in my head.”
“Even memories have power,” she said, and smiled. The ground began to shake. There was a sound of cracking timbers are bridges snapped under incredible tension.
Trip blinked and gasped. He began to run away from her, the ground sloping up until he was running up a hill that was becoming steeper and steeper; he suddenly remembered that this was his own head and he jumped, flying as far and as fast from the memory as he could.
He turned, looking back, incredulous; the island was closing up, like a dome, and then the land was moving through itself, turning inside out, until the surface was flat again. The bridges to other islands began to slowly reform, like a plant growing in slow-motion, and the characters faded back in.
Trip opened his eyes. The moon was on its way down; it was perhaps past midnight. He’d slept a little, and he lay there for a moment examining the unique feeling of having fallen asleep while viewing memory. Normally the very act of examining a scene kept him awake.
“Victor?” Trip whispered. There was no response, and Trip held his breath.
There was total silence. No snoring. No sound of breathing.
Trip sat up. The fire was out. The moon cast enough light to see that Victor’s bedroll was empty, and Trip felt wings of fear flutter inside his chest. He stood up and looked around.
“Trip,” he heard. A high voice. A woman’s. The voice from his memory/dream, coming from the hill. Trip began to walk towards it, his feet making shushing noises through the grass.
“Trip,” came the voice again. It was almost insubstantial, a whisper, but carried as if on a wind that wasn’t blowing.
The top of the hill was broad, and two figures became visible as he walked. Victor was much closer to the woman, her long green dress glowing slightly in the moonlight. The old man was plodding, almost, each step deliberate and almost taken against his will.
“Stop this now, Trip,” the boy heard Victor say. “This ain’t amusin’”
“Victor!” Trip shouted, and he saw the man’s head jerk around, his body still moving towards the woman. “It’s not me!”
“What the…” Victor muttered, then, as Trip grew nearer, he spoke again. “Yer time is over, woman. Get back to where you belong.”
“Come to me, Trip,” she said in response. “You are the one I have been waiting for. You are the one to complete me.”
Trip opened his mouth to respond, but Victor got there first. “I’m not the one you’ve been waitin’ for, wench,” he growled, and Trip gasped. Victor had heard his own name when the princess spoke!
“Trip, come here,” she said. “I need you.”
“Let go of me,” Victor shouted. “You need to go back to where you come from.”
He was nearly in front of the woman, and she opened her arms wide. “Embrace me,” she said. “It’s been so long,”
“Remira,” Victor said, emotion choking his voice. “Remira, yer dead, my love.”
“Victor…” Trip whispered, and as he took another step closer the woman in green began to change. Her entire form seemed to vibrate in the air, and then she was a different person. Brown hair had replaced the blonde; leather trousers, a white shirt with a leather waistcoat cinched at the waist. A dozen little tools and pieces of equipment stuck out of the many pockets in the coat and trousers, and even the sturdy boots had brass fittings made of tiny cogs. The vision smiled.
“Lauren!” Trip said. Lauren nodded. A bright light burned at her breast.
Victor wrenched his head round. Tears were running down his face, the light from Lauren picking them out as tiny stars. “You blind boy? This is Remira, my…” His face hardened, eyes narrowing, and he bared his teeth. A bestial roar burst out of his mouth and he turned back to the vision.
“You are NOT my wife!” he shouted. “Remira died, years back! I mourned her, I buried her, I moved on.” He forced out a bitter laugh. “You’ve lost. Get back to where you belong.”
As Trip watched, Lauren’s form seemed to shatter, like glass dropped from a great height. As the fragments of her form drifted away into nothing, the woman in the green dress was there again. She snarled, her beautiful features twisting and deforming; her eyes became dark hollows with little red sparks in their depths, and her blond hair began to dance and snake as if static lightning were being run through it. Her lips pulled back from teeth that were suddenly fangs and a long tongue whipped out.
“Then perish,” she screamed, and Trip felt his body pulled inexorably forward at a run. He felt his foot hit something, a stone; he tumbled forward, arms too slow to save him, and crashed into the ground shoulder-first, rolling forward. Everything was a whirl of colour and motion; he heard Victor let out a yell and felt something smack against his side, and then he was staring up at the stars again, a heavy weight across his legs. He sat up, wincing as his head pounded, and looked around.
Victor was on top of him. The man looked as shocked as Trip felt; his sudden arrival had literally taken Victor out at the knees and apparently released whatever hold the princess had on them. Trip scanned the area around them, but could see no sign of the woman. Not a single trace; no disturbed grass, no scrap of glowing green… nothing.
“Are you all right?” he asked Victor. The old man grunted. “Can you get off, please? My legs hurt.”
Victor wriggled off of Trip and clambered to his feet. Trip gasped as pain coursed through his shins, but the pain dimmed as he climbed gingerly to his feet.
“Where’s that she-witch gone?” Victor said.
“Back. To… wherever she came from.”
“I want her back ‘ere,” the man growled, “Show ‘er a piece o’ my mind!”
“No!” Trip said, icy fear gripping him. “No, Victor. We need to go. Now.” He grabbed Victor’s upper arm, starting to pull him away. “This place isn’t safe.”
Victor allowed Trip to pull him back down on to the path. “Yeh,” he murmured, “Maybe it’s best we get an early start.” He shook himself and looked at the sky. “Nearly dawn.”
There was silence as they packed up the camp, and birds began to trill their morning chorus. Trip tried to avoid looking at Victor directly, but it was clear that the man wasn’t interested in talking about it or even acknowledging anything had happened.
In short order Trip was sipping from his bottle of brackish water as Victor shouldered the larger pack. He corked the bottle and stowed it in his own pack.
“Who was Remira?”
“Damnit boy, y’had to ask,” Victor said, scowling. He sighed. “Remira was my wife. Talked about her once or twice, maybe not by name.”
“She died, didn’t she.”
Trip took a step forward. “I’m-“
“Don’t give me yer pity, boy. If I had a gold coin fed every time someone’d pitied me… well, I’d have a gold coin right there.” Victor stared at Trip as if daring him to contradict him.
Trip shook his head. “I saw Lauren. Is she dead?”
“Not that I know, boy.” Victor turned and wait while Trip walked up next to him. “Want to go visit her?”
“Aye,” Trip said gruffly, and together they walked away from the hill.