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Not Half As Blinding

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PROLOGUE

The sun blinds him. There’s a salty smell on the wind and the sand is glaringly white, though not half as white as the flash from the muzzle of Moira’s gun. Erik faces her and Charles picks himself from the sand, hearing the whizz of bullets as they are deflected by an invisible shield.

The sun is in his eyes again, all of sudden, and the sky that surrounds it is white, and he wonders how that happened, he was turning away from it, he shouldn’t be staring in its glorious visage.

Then Erik’s face is there, shadowed by the infernal contraption that is no better than a coffin, for all the good it does, obscuring the glare.

“Charles!”

He tries to speak, but finds he can’t. The only thing escaping his throat is a gurgle, and a weak whimper. Somewhere to the right Raven sobs, her distress pooling in Charles’ chest. Or is it Moira’s? Someone is distressed, they are probably female, and they are distressed around the empty spot that contains Erik’s likeness.

Darkness eats away at the corners of Charles’ vision.

This is familiar, he thinks, and feels himself panic. Not again, no! Hasn’t he died once already, ten minutes ago? Hasn’t he walked through the valley, once is enough, please, no! Whose mind is it, he wonders dimly, that latches onto his? Who is dying and pulling him under as well?

It feels like Moira. She chokes and Charles finds he cannot breathe either.

The sun is high in the sky and Erik’s face is staring down at him, yelling words that Charles cannot hear, but Erik cannot be there, because Charles can’t feel the steadying presence of his mind.

The mind is the one thing that is always real. Dreams can confuse his eyes, but dreams are loud, tangible and abstract, even when they take on the form of men who lack the substance that fills the living creatures, so Charles knows they aren’t real. Erik, this Erik, must be a dream, then.

The face above him is uniformly dark against the glare of the sky, a shape, a word of no meaning, then something separates from it, and suddenly Erik is there again.

“Charles!” he screams and wipes his face, leaving a bloody smear across his cheek and nose.

You look ridiculous, Charles thinks. How’s Moira?

Erik’s eyes flicker and some of the pressure around Charles’ neck is alleviated. When he draws a breath, however, no air fills his lungs and words which he was sure would spill out of his mouth get stuck in his throat, bumbling there like New Year’s champagne, cold from the snow, glittering like fireworks.

The darkness is relentless. The edges crawl up the sides, obscuring nearly a third of the sky, licking up the bright dome from its base. Erik is still yelling and there is terror wafting from him, and panic, multiplied by Raven, oh, dear Raven. Her terror is blue and smells like chocolate waffles.

Alex is dust and embers.

Sean is wind and brick.

Hank is white and crackles like electricity.

Moira coughs. She tastes like fountain water.

The sole bright spot haloes Erik’s head and Charles smiles. See, you are wrong. There’s so much light around you, my dear friend.

But the darkness keeps spreading and soon it touches Erik, muddling up his face, twisted in anguished horror, and Charles would very much like to tell him to remember candles and serenity, but these are just words and the memory is out of his reach. Only the image of Erik’s mother comes through, hallowed by the candlelight, warm and glowing, reaching out toward him and Charles cannot do anything but smile.