He was safe.
He didn’t know why he felt that way.
It had been first the flame, the fierce bright light that had found him after so long in the darkness. It hadn’t been alone; another light had been there, this one steady as the lit wick of a candle, although that thought wasn’t something that he recognised with his mind aching and dark. Still, it was almost as comforting and he had trusted in them both, and they had led him away from the stink and the fear that had followed him from his prison.
His eyes wouldn’t track on anything except the brightness of his guardians, and while he could not see he could feel, and the familiarity of the place they had taken him to soothed him like deep stone or dark water, cool air or warm fire. It was a haven, and he immediately found his place within it, curled up away from the beings there, his guardians and the one who glowed with the colour of the most glorious aurora…but once again, making that connection made it also vanish immediately.
And the soft thing that made sounds like the rumbling of the mountain, peaceful and soothing, fur delicate under pain-filled hands, the only thing that could lull him past the heaviness in his mind and the dullness of his body and spirit.
Time had no meaning.
Meaning had no time.
One more came, and he barely had sensed them – all cold fierceness and life-giving breath – before the black of his thoughts threatened to overwhelm him once more, that word that had caused his brain to flare into agony and fear and he didn’t want to go back there, not to where the one was, the one who had damaged him and hurt him and had torn away his very being…the malefic music, that had gone very nearly quiet since he’d been taken away, roared to life once more, drowning out everything but the emptiness and the despair and the hideous blackness.
He simply didn’t have the strength to fight any longer.
The fiery one and the steady one protected him, and he wanted to be grateful however he didn’t know what that meant.
But there was one missing. He was certain of it, although he had no memory on what to base that certainty on. The person who should have been the one protecting him, sheltering him from the storm within his own brain.
Something slithered within his head. It was full of poisoned soil and withered life and it shouldn’t be that way, yet it was.
Words came, and while he didn’t understand them they were calming. The candle flame it was, quiet and sure, and he let it wash over him, giving him back the strength to relax once more, his eyes turning back to the coldly ferocious one who had said the one thing he couldn’t stand to hear.
He wondered how he’d understood what that was, when he didn’t know anything else.
But that thought vanished as quickly as the others, back into the bubbling tar pit of his mind.
The rumble was a balm to him, and he welcomed it once more, glad he hadn’t damaged it when that word had disturbed him into flailing action.
A word he knew, when he knew no others.
He let the darkness smother him once more. He was too exhausted for anything else. There was something within it that called to him, and he didn’t understand past the discordant sound of the music that floated through the something that lived within the darkness. Was it himself he was feeling? Or was it a thing he didn’t know, that belonged within the absolute black of his mind?
He couldn’t think. He couldn’t even consider.
He knew time passed, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. The rumbling thing drowned out the awful song, and he was pitifully grateful. He didn’t want it there. He wanted to know himself once more, to live in the light that he felt had to be somewhere beyond the dark.
He couldn’t…no, not that word.
Never that word, ever again.
At some point, yet another showed themselves to his limited consciousness; this one heavy and almost as dark as he was, and yet it was different, like a wave or rain or…he didn’t know. It was also familiar to him, like the others that stayed with him, even though the flame and the candle were no longer there. His guardians had left without him, but he didn’t care.
He was still safe, with the aurora and the cold wind – who stank of fear now, and not…never…malice. And now there was this new one, one he could drown in and feel peace.
For some reason, they were familiar, like the fire and the candle. But his damaged mind shied away from the familiarity, and it was lost in the darkness.
Darkness was all he had, all the certainty in his world of blurred lines and foggy movements. It was the darkness that welcomed him; that covered him in its eternity and kept him from harm. And yet, it wasn’t right; it shouldn’t be there, and yet he didn’t understand why that was.
And he wasn’t alone in the darkness; he simply couldn’t put a name to what was there with him.
Still, he let it consume him. It was all black and cold and calm, and in some ways it soothed him; in other ways, he knew it wasn’t right, that his mind shouldn’t be damaged as it was, that it had to do with that single word he didn’t dare think.
And yet, the deeper he went within the dark and the black…at first, he didn’t notice it, because his inner eyes were just as clouded as his outer ones. But when he did, that pinprick of light, he couldn’t help but move toward it.
Even as small as it was, it was golden and bright and called to him, illuminating the black and chasing away the things that were keeping him company. That horrifically discordant music grew within him, but with that light…he didn’t care. It was comforting and he didn’t want to hurt anymore, and that light was a promise of painlessness and hope that he hadn’t had ever since…he didn’t know how long, because time didn’t matter to him. Not when he was like this, a creature of the blackness that surrounded him, of the strangeness that smothered him and kept his thoughts from breaking through and helping him understand what had been done to him.
That beacon summoned him across his agony and fear and need for the dark. He went to it willingly, even as the noise grew louder, driving deep within his already wounded mind to get him to stop. It was dangerous, but he didn’t believe that.
It was the first right thing he could recall believing in.
However, that didn’t mean much in his current state. He could recall nothing once whatever thought he’d had appeared, vanishing as quickly as smoke in a breeze.
No, not like that.
The brightness grew closer and closer, and he found his mind reaching toward it eagerly, needing to know what this was that was lighting his perpetual darkness.
But if this was pushing away that darkness, then it was also exposing the festering rot within him.
Grasping tendrils and curling roots and creatures he had no name for surrounded him, trying to pull him back into the dark where he’d been captive for so long. He fought them, even as the music grew into a deafening shriek that made his brain ring with it. No, he could almost make out within the terrible sound, you mustn’t…
It didn’t matter anymore. He needed the light, as he needed to breathe and survive and he couldn’t hide any longer. This bright light called to him, and nothing was going to stop him from gaining it, now that he knew it existed within him.
The dark tried to snuff it out, to hide it from him, but he wasn’t going to let himself go back into that hell. His body and brain were exhausted by its cloying weight. He simply couldn’t take his condition any longer.
The need to fight for himself was growing as much as the light was. He had to reach it, he had to know. What was this, and why was the darkness so afraid that he’d reach it?
The light coiled around him, welcoming him and drawing him away from the black that had haunted him.
The moment he did, he knew he’d made a mistake, although what that was…
He could feel it: his body, tingling as if every limb had fallen asleep while he’d been trapped. His mouth fell open, and even he didn’t recognise the sounds coming from it…if it was pain or joy or fear, there was no way to know.
All three emotions were clamouring to escape.
And then he began to change.
Somewhere in his injured mind he knew those people he should have known were yelling and shouting, but the words were unknown. He was being touched, dragged bodily away out of his safe place, and he tried to fight but there was something entangling him and he could do nothing but let himself be taken away, to someplace he didn’t know but was wide and open and it frightened him not to be in his cramped space anymore.
That fear was very quickly replaced by something far stronger and worse, feelings he could not describe even if he wanted to.
The very bones within him were shifting, changing, twisting into some other shape. The force that had propelled him away from his safe place was gone, and he fell to what was the ground; the dirt under his hands stung him, and he jerked away from it, throwing his head back and roaring in terror that this was happening, that he had no control over this sudden, abhorrent change.
His back felt ripped open, and strangely it didn’t hurt; in fact, his pain was growing less, even as he was changing into what he didn’t know. The horror rushed through him even as the agony receded, and he roared once more, through a mouth that felt far too large and yet…it was right, and he couldn’t begin to accept it.
There were still the sounds of screaming and yelling, but he couldn’t deal with that now. Whatever the light was, it was turning him into something he hadn’t been before, pin-prickling over his skin in a pain/pleasure sensation that he wanted to lurch away from, but couldn’t. His mind attempted to retreat back into the shadow world he’d long existed in, but the light wouldn’t let him.
He thrashed, and his new body was far larger and more dangerous than the one that he’d known, and he was so very scared and horrified and he wanted to forget and become that damaged thing he’d been before…
But he couldn’t.
The only overwhelming thought he had was, What am I?
And then, Was this done to me to protect others?
It didn’t matter that these were the most coherent thoughts he’d had in so long. It only mattered that this was not right, that he shouldn’t be like this…
And then his mind whispered, This is your true self.
You are Iohannes…Ieuen…Iestyn…Idris…Iaon…Ifan…Ianto. This is who you are. You have simply been made to forget.
Take back what is yours and be calm. I am with you, son. Be yourself once more.
But he couldn’t.
It almost drowned out the sound of someone saying something that thrummed with a power that once again should have been familiar yet wasn’t.
The darkness returned, but this time it was different from the purgatory he’d been in before.