He loves bright, cold nights like this.
I press my form tight against the shadows as a cloud of rank breath steams into the darkness. The watch-wyverns pause at the alley’s entrance and my heart drops, though I know they aren’t bred to detect pure human scent. It’s one of the benefits of being a near-extinct species in a city full of Elven clans, I suppose. These public service mutts aren’t trained to track mortal blood.
Their alpha’s mouth stretches in a fierce yawn, all teeth and saliva. They carry on the patrol and head west to guard the revelers of the Court at the Capitol building.
Enriael is there. The fête is in his honor, after all, a celebration for his opening at the royal gallery. The image of him enjoying wine and gambling with the elite tightens the knots in my gut. Let him drink and dance himself sick. All I care about is the fact that public buildings like the gallery are closed for the feast.
“Whatever happens. I’m going to love you forever.”
The memory of his voice slides an iron spike of anger through my spine as I step from my shadowy sanctuary and into the amber glow of the streetlamp. I uncoil the spidersilk rope from my waist. Enriael will outlive me by centuries. Coming from him, those words were supposed to mean something.
I swing the rope in a wide arc and launch it upwards, securing a loop around a tower balustrade. The scrape of thick black claws against pavement tells me the watch-wyverns are beginning their second round. I pull the rope taut and use it to counterbalance my weight as I press my boots against the stone wall. I begin my ascent, gritting my teeth against a fresh wave of fury that brings piercing tears to my eyes
His art is beyond anything I’ve ever seen, almost beyond my human comprehension. The first time he showed me how he could harness the threads of a person’s memory and weave them into a living pocket of the past I nearly lost consciousness.
I ignore the gusts of wind seeking to blow me off balance and climb.
I remember the night I gave him my memories. He said he couldn’t take them without my permission, though now I wonder.
It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I didn’t hesitate. I gave him far more than he asked for, the whole sum of my mortal experience. Of course, I didn’t know about his other ‘muses’ then, nor did I understand the complete impossibility of our future together.
He has aeons of memories to twist and shape and share with the world. I won’t let him use mine.
“I’ve never felt this way about anyone else. I never will again.”
The Curator’s ancient locks are at the gallery doors, but here on the roof, high above the main exhibits where no one has thought to look, I’ve found a way inside. Lifting the circular grate at the cross-section of the atrium’s beams, I lower myself into the muted lighting of the closed gallery.
I don’t have to look far to see his exhibit — it’s staged front and center on the mezzanine level, mounted engravings proclaiming Great Artisan Enriael as the Maestro of Memory, Virtuoso of the Past.
He frames his work in gold of course — Earth’s most precious element to Elven nobility. The massive works of art rise ten feet above me, images within indistinguishable from shadows, undulating as I draw near. One step through the frame and I would be immersed in whatever moment he’s chosen to put on display.
“My life isn’t mine anymore. I can’t let you go, but I know I can’t keep living like this.”
I’ve come to smash them, to pry the frames from the wall and free the memories from their hold to dissipate into whatever hell or aether they existed in before the Great Artisan Enriael captured them with his Gift.
And that’s exactly what I’m about to do when the piercing cry of a watch-wyvern’s howl startles me in the dimness.
In a beat of panic my feet turn to hide but betray me with a stumble. I plunge headfirst through the great golden frame into the memory and arms of… myself.
In this memory, I am Enriael, looking down into the grey eyes of my past self, a soft human girl he found hiding in an alley with snowflakes in her hair.
Enriael’s heart — I feel it as though it were my own — pulses a deep, strong beat. My — his breath comes faster, a warm sensation spreading from the center of his chest to the tips of his fingers. His — my hands reach out to cup her face, anticipation of the coming kiss tingling in my palms.
The moment shifts, dissolving into effervescence, and I am back in the gallery — the memory is over. The warmth I feel spreading beneath my ribs is his. The tears coursing down my face are mine.
“I want you to remember. Remember that I meant what I said. Every word.”
My limbs lock as my mind swims towards reality. Snarling and scratches at the gated windows join the watch-wyverns’ cry and finally my legs understand the need to move now. I run to the rope and ascend to the cold night above. I pull the iron covering closed and secure it. Crossing to the rim of the gallery atrium, where the wind blows coldest through my cloak, I sink to the edge.
I thought I was the only one who remembered it that way.
From this height, I can see all the way to St. Fedryn’s Cathedral spires, piercing the velvety over-curtain of sky on the corner of 5th and Galvaeryl Avenue. I almost wish the anger back but a flurry of snowflakes falls into my hair and I am the girl in the memories again.
I’ll have to make new ones now.
Kasey Ragan lives in Texas, United States.