Now You See Me

I am a bad writer.

Not in the sense that I am bad at writing – I’m no goddess among authors, but I do fancy myself to be at least alright. The writing itself is all well enough. The problem, in this case, is the volume of my writing lately. If one were to average my non-medical writing over the past six months I don’t think it would even amount to ½ a word per day (this from the girl who had a 500-word minimum back in the good ol’ days… a year ago).

That’s bad.

I finished the first-pass edit of Forsaken Lands 2 in February while working the night admissions team in the hospital, and was so unable to write new words that I didn’t even update the blog about it. The book has since been reviewed by two beta readers and an editor person, and I’ve had their comments available to me for… weeks.

See? That’s just ridiculous. It’s not only unfair to people who would probably like to read the sequel (FL1 did have a pretty cruel cliff hanger, after all), but it’s also unfair to me. All through medical school this world was the thing that kept my inner self alive. I knew when I first started this journey that medicine will eat you alive if you let it – it will eat your health, friends, and hobbies. It will decimate your free time.

In some ways I knowingly let the writing slide. I’ve been away from my specialty doing more of the dreaded medicine-medicine which tortures my soul. Soul-torture, I’ve found, is not especially conducive to creativity, and I needed my spare mental energy to use towards things like eating, exercising, sleeping, and staying sane (the latter of which I may or may not have managed). In addition to the soul-sucking medicine-medicine experience, I’ve been going through a series of personal transformations which are difficult to quantify.

Four weeks ago I started a brand-new chapter in my life. The days of thinking to myself, Just get through this next day/rotation/year, have mostly passed. I am no longer required to engage in tasks I did not explicitly sign up for. I am on to the realm of my specialty, which I happen to love, and that… is very, very weird.

When you’ve lived for years just trying to get by, get through until you can do what you really want, arriving at your goal feels less like winning a gold medal and more like ramming your skull directly into a wall (at least it does for me). You spent years running full-bore, busting tail… and then you come to a sudden, teeth-jolting stop.

What now?

That’s where I am, just this moment. I am in a place I never thought I’d be. Deep down, I’ve been expecting to fail this entire time – expected to get rejected from med school admissions, fail the boards, fail clinical rotations, fail to get into residency. It seemed more likely at every juncture that I would die before getting to the end of intern year, and yet here I am – I’m doing well at my job and enjoying the work, looking out at a future where I will continue to be a doctor and I will make a difference. I was not prepared for the possibilities which would open up and the people whose lives would touch mine in new, unexpected ways – patients and fellow clinicians alike. You would think that in 25 years I might have figured out that the universe is infinite in its capacity for surprises, but… well, I guess I didn’t. I think I’m getting there, though.

Just as soul-suck-dom is bad for a writing, apparently existential confusion is also bad for writing. I’m over here trying to figure out what happens now that I’m not slated to die a failed almost-doctor, and the words… well, they’re just now starting to show up again. Look! There are words right here on this page!

This is my lengthy, information-overloaded way of saying… hi again. I’m back, or at least I’m on my way back. Perhaps you’d like some proof? Read on, reader (spoilers ahead).

Preview: Forsaken Lands 2

SPOILER ALERT: NEW SCENE FROM FORSAKEN LANDS 2 BELOW

Blackness. Nothing but the feel of her – skin smooth, muscles tensing beneath a layer of lush softness. A mouth covered his, and hands found their way up over his shoulders to wrap around his neck. The length of her –and sweet gods above, the way she molded to him – pressed against every inch of him. They were bare flesh on flesh, tantalizing and wonderful; everything he ever imagined.

They kissed: long, hard, and passionate; the way he’d always imagined. His heart thudded in his ears, the heat of pleasure and pure want spread to the tips of his fingers. His grip tightened.

He gasped when Aia’s hands fanned over his chest, pushing him down onto the steel table. When he opened his eyes he saw only her face, wide cheekbones framing a mischievous smile. Lavender eyes locked onto his.

“Skies,” he growled, reaching to pull her down on top of him. Ringlets of maroon hair brushed his face, tumbling from her shoulders. He wanted to be with her, in her, around her, beyond anything-

Teveres awoke to an intense burning sensation deep in his right hand. Pain shattered the fragile gift of sleep. Though he wanted nothing more than to drown out his existence with unconsciousness, sleep came all too seldom. His sole companion in this strange place, The Cold Steel Table, was not very welcoming of his fantasies; its unyielding angles drove them far away.

He wished that he could go far away – anywhere.

Pain was becoming his constant master. As awareness drifted back to his body, physical sensations returned in sequence. First was the new pain – the burning in his hand where the needle-ended tube entered his skin. There was sharpness like a knife in his upper back and a lancing pain in his side that raged every time he took a deep breath. His naked skin was always freezing against Cold Steel. Blankets, apparently, were of low priority in this prison. A machine whirred softly in the background, along with the sound of bubbles…

The sound of bubbles that followed him for these past weeks – months? – was conspicuously missing. Slowly, slowly his head was clearing, and he realized that Cold Steel was folded into a chair-like configuration. Straps pressed tight against his chest and abdomen, holding his arms to his sides. Something has changed.

The next step – opening his eyes – came with a great cost. Seeing the inside of his cell, three walls of cement and a fourth made of a mirror, was a serial disappointment. The outline of the door in the mirror taunted him, absent of hinges or handles. As near as he could tell, his captors were ghosts. They never showed their faces; items appeared and disappeared, whatever they drugged him with changed to suit their liking, and not once had he seen their faces.

Today he faced the mirror. He hated to look at himself anymore, but from his position it was hard to avoid. The man in the mirror was a grim sight indeed, hardly resembling the man he was when he left his home in Ilvan nearly a year ago. His travels leading up to his imprisonment made him thin, but not emaciated; when he saw himself now he was skeletal. His skin was pale and his cheeks sunken. While his muscle mass had not disappeared – he had not been here quite that long – his collarbones, wrists and ribs were much easier to trace beneath the skin.

Examining his own image more closely he noticed a small, stitched-over wound on his right side where a tube used to be. His chest ached with each breath. There was a new item behind him, a small box with dials and buttons similar to some of the devices he had seen the engineers working with in Nivenea. Metal wires from the box snaked up to stick painlessly to his forehead.

Two facts about his situation were particularly unnerving: first, that the tube-and-bubble-machine with no apparent purpose but to torture him was missing for no apparent reason – and second, that someone had made several significant additions to his surroundings. He loathed being kept in the dark, fearing what would come next. He racked his brain, searching for clues.

Thinking back to the last time he was awake, he recalled nothing out of the ordinary. He spent that day (or night, or whatever it was) doing what he normally did. When he was first brought to the cell he was unable to get up from pain and labored breathing, but as he recovered he began trying to carry on functioning. He didn’t know much about medicine, but he did know that walking was important, so he did just that. He ate the food that appeared on the table, showered under the pitiful spigot in the other corner, utilized the humiliatingly open-to-the-air facilities, and sat on the table. He hummed songs he barely remembered and tried not to give in to the temptation to bash his skull against the wall.

As far as he knew, he hadn’t done anything objectionable lately. This didn’t seem likely to be a punishment. Whatever reason they had for sedating him and changing his surroundings, it wasn’t a reaction to what he’d done.

Who “they” were was still unclear. He gathered that they were these Celet people and that they were watching him. He hated them very much. They kept him in a constant low-level state of capping, a state of mild pain which rendered his powers useless, which made it impossible for him to turn against them. The headache from the weaponized kelspar used to cap him was as constant a companion as Cold Steel, a dull throb at the base of his skull.

Teveres sighed loudly. With the bubbles gone his own breath was the only sound in the room. He would give anything to talk to anyone else – Celet, Kaldari, or otherwise. The last time he saw or spoke to another soul was the day he was shot…

His chest tightened at the memory. Focus on something else, damn it. He had enough nightmares about it; no need to dwell on it during waking times, as well.

Groaning, he writhed against the restraints. His half-hearted escape attempt was all in vain. The leather straps were unyielding. Stuck – but why?

“What do you want from me?” he called out into the solitude.

He waited, but no reply came. They were watching him, for certain, somewhere out there – watching, but never talking.

“We’re all waiting,” he continued anyway. His words were louder and clearer than usual with the tube removed. The improvement was mildly encouraging. “I love these conversations we have, you know. It’s been a while. Maybe you could contribute?” he looked up at the slab ceiling. Part of him worried about becoming a mad man; the other part was convinced he already was. “I try not to complain, but I would like it if you’d take the needle out next time. Fucking burns, if you didn’t know.” The burning was getting worse, it seemed, and as it did the headache started to go away for the first time in what felt like forever.

The silence dragged on. His eyes fluttered closed. Perhaps if he tried, he could push the pain away and go back to sleep. It was a much better alternative than staring at the mirror.

CLANG. The sound that echoed through the room reminded him of a shot from the pistolet. He cried out in surprise, his heart racing. His eyes snapped open to darkness as the dull high of adrenaline consumed him.

He scoured the blackness for an answer. The only source of light came from the mirror… which was no longer a mirror. It had transformed into a window, the work of some dark magic. Suddenly he was not alone.

A woman sat opposite him through the glass, strapped down to a very familiar table. Short-cropped black hair framed a young face, her features small and delicate. She was perhaps 18, wearing only underthings; her coffee-colored skin was bathed in bright white light.

When Teveres’s gaze met hers he couldn’t look away. Her eyes were decidedly gray, the color of summer storms, too large for her small face. Tears glimmered in the light and trailed over her cheeks. Her eyes were pleading with him as her body shook. Her lips mouthed silent words: ‘Don’t do it.”

Panting, Teveres struggled harder against his own restraints. The straps squealed against his skin and jabbed into his ribs. The initial joy of seeing another human being was replaced by dread. Something bad was about to happen. He felt fear, but the fear was not his own. He was feeling her fear. The capping was starting to lift in earnest.

A second figure stepped out from the darkness to stand next to the girl. The figure wore a black, eyeless mask, and dark clothing. Gloved hands wrapped around a pistolet, leveled at the young woman’s skull. The girl hung her head.

Teveres broke out in a sweat. There was so much fear and rage around him and within him that he couldn’t sort it. He wished that he could share in Aia’s divinity long enough to get a better picture of what was happening. His mind-reading abilities were sadly insufficient. He looked skyward again.

“What do you want?” he bellowed up at the nebulous Them. “What is this supposed to be?” This time his cries were met with an answer of sorts. If Cold Steel had not been bolted down, Teveres would have toppled backwards at the sudden, sharp physical pain that emanated from beyond the glass. The young woman began screaming loud enough that the sounds seeped through to his cell. Teveres’s heart flew to his throat trying to block it out. Nothing touched her and the pistolet had not gone off… yet her agony was unmatched. His skin prickled as the lost flame of his divinity began to warm him, a slow kindle building to a raging fire.

Her pain consumed him, threatening to break him. A sound between a roar and a scream built in his gut until it exploded from his lips.

Do you want a fight?” he shouted, his voice cracking. “Is that what you fucking want? Come down here and take me!”

His mind stuttered when the masked figure advanced to press the pistolet against her head. The barrel of the weapon touching her temple destroyed his last vestige of his control. Teveres let go of the leash, the fire within blazing through the masked figure’s life energy.

He didn’t need to see the evidence of his work. His eyes rolled back in his head and a blissful wave of pleasure soaked him. The pain, the fear, the rage all went away. The high of killing always disgusted him, but this time he let it take over, even as the guilt clawed at him, panic threatening to shatter his reprieve.

Gods, demons, anyone, please…take me away from here. In his ecstasy, he wept.