part I: chapter 7

Soundtrack: Thirty Seconds To Mars “Convergence” (click here to listen)

Bewildered, Damiano had watched Gaia as they had talked having met by chance at one of the many bacari of the city. There, in front of him, had been a young woman who behaved as though she had never seen herself. No, that wasn’t true. She had behaved as though she saw somebody completely unsightly that made her cringe in pain each time she faced a mirror or any other reflective surface for that matter. Somebody that had to be hidden from the world and from herself to avoid reality that for some reason caused her so much anguish, and it had seemed she was doing everything in her power to push against the background of her surroundings in a desperate attempt to blend in and disappear. Why? Even as they had been standing by the canal and talking, drinking wine, Gaia’s feeling of miserable self-awareness and desire to run away had been palpable. Damiano had wanted to wrap his arms around her and assure her that there was no need to feel that way, at least while and when he was around, and he would have done that, but they were strangers and the last thing he had wanted to do was scare her off. They had a date set after all and he hoped she wouldn’t change her mind about it.

“How is your own costume coming along?” he had asked.

Gaia had given a slight shrug. “Not so well.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t like what you’ve created.”

She had shaken her head. “No. It’s not that. I usually come up with outlandish ideas that are way too complex to become reality and this one is no exception. I doubt I will manage to finish it in time”

Outlandish ideas. He wanted to see what she had meant by that. The beginnings of the mask on her desk at the studio had been intriguing.

Watching as the night softly embraced the city Damiano now looked at the memory floating in front of him on a wisp of fog like on a shred of a screen and sighed, feeling the embers of anger, buried deep within him, still burning.

“Protect yourself from me, if you know how,” he had once said, inhaling the scent of her perfume, his voice a whisper.

“Then let me always remember how your name feels on my lips, how your voice caresses my mind,” had been her response, her forehead against his, her hands wrapped around his waist as they had stood in the middle of the busy quayside lit by the afternoon sun.

Now everything was different. Now she was gone, ripped from his world, from their universe. And he was banished from the life he had known to live among those who had stolen everything that he cherished, everything that made sense and was his by right.

Now he found himself on this altana under the starlit sky of the ice-cold night, in a city so like and unlike his own, thinking of this girl he had invited to the ball. Gaia. The reason was curiosity. He had felt something extremely peculiar the moment he had come close to her in the mask studio. He had felt something that didn’t really belong to this world – an angry growl of a shadowed monster. Damiano knew of such incantations, had performed them himself to make enemies stay away from what was dear to him, and once he had been able to detect ones created by others as easily as taking a breath. Now, however, things were different. Even though he had felt the incantation, its threads pushing against his mental touch, there wasn’t much he could do about it and much less trace its origin. His gifts had been taken from him, stolen. As much as he had been trying to restore at least an ounce of them, using admittedly dangerous and – mostly – illegal methods, the success of the endeavor had been extremely limited. While in the parallel world he was sensing at least something, here, in Venice, he felt like he was walking in an extremely thick fog where he could only guess what was going on, but most of the sensations were extremely misleading. Who would put an incantation from the parallel world on someone here? Why waste magic like that? Some rouge apprentice experimenting with their craft here to piss off their mentor? Stupid, if true, but not unheard of. He smiled at that. Or could she perhaps be one of the exiled ones with all memory and sense of self erased? There were no signs. Not that he could tell for sure, he bitterly admitted to himself. Whatever the answer, Damiano knew he would find it.

Suddenly he furrowed his brow. Is this the night when all the strangest sensations come knocking on my doors? He closed his eyes, slightly inclining his head as though trying to catch a fleeting sound in the silent cold of the night before it disappeared. Let’s see then. Damiano knew there was only the sliver of a chance of his intended deed succeeding, but he had to try. As his mental hands reached out, they touched what felt like an invisible glass wall that was surrounding Gaia and there was a vibration in the air, a buzz-like sensation similar to that of approaching powerful electrical current. The whole setting had a distinctly sinister vibe to it as though someone or something was about to attack him if he took a step closer or touched the glass. Curious. And how the hell is this even possible?

Upon first touch Damiano had thought the gigantic glass wall to be a screen to shield Gaia, but now as he scanned the wall he felt stunned. Someone was doing everything possible – and maybe even the impossible – to keep anyone away from Gaia at all costs. Damiano pressed both palms of his mental hands against the glass wall. Why am I able to do this? A spiderweb of fractures snaked in all directions from under his palms throughout the perfectly smooth surface and the next moment the glass lay shattered at his feet. Too easy. Even though the incantation was done extremely convincingly and even though he was using the last remaining scraps of his gift, Damiano realized everything about what he felt was more of a pretense, an illusion that appeared more than it actually was thanks to cleverly positioned mirrors and a massive amount of smoke. Or not.

The first thread of the true incantation, invisible thus far, revealed itself now that the glass wall had fallen. He felt it hiss upon his touch as though a piece of ice had touched white-hot iron literally causing him to wince in pain. Not so simple, then. Even more curious. The attempt to snap the thread gave no result, as expected. So the gift’s not back in full, as expected, which means there’s no quick way about this after all. All right. Damiano took the thread between his mental fingers, still very much incredulous of this even happening. It was supposed to be impossible.

The pain was blinding him, but he held on, trying to see how many smaller threads it was made of. Four. That made no sense. Nobody made simple incantations like this, using such complicated threads. Was this really a work of a beginner? He had no clue. Without his gift fully at his disposal he could not feel the signature. He was stunned he was actually able to do this much, however, this seemed to be the night of things that made no sense at all. And then in his mind he heard a low growl of such viciousness that startled him and reverberated like poison through his every bone. What the hell? But no, there was no beast like that in hell. This one was bread in a very particular place. His mental hand brushed against the beast the incantation hid beneath countless blankets of deep shadows. Damiano knew it wasn’t supposed to be possible for him to detect all these things, but somehow it was happening. And he knew this monster. But why would someone choose this particular bread to guard Gaia’s incantation? It felt out of place. It was like a highly skilled assassin appointed to chaperone duty. In a rush of fury, his judgement clouded by the pain and anger, Damiano pushed both his mental arms through the incantation’s threads, reaching for the beast on the other side, and blasted the beast with a pulse of blinding cold white light with a roar of rage as blinding as the pain inflicted by the threads. And another surprise. A realization. The threads and the monster were hiding and guarding a massive and incredibly complicated labyrinth. A fortress. Monsters, walls, insane mazes and a fortress. What the fuck?

As he pulled his mental arms back out of the cage of threads woven around Gaia and opened his eyes, he literally ripped off his coat as fast as his hurting body would allow and pulled up the sleeves of his shirt. The intricate markings on his arms where blazing with cold white light. It took the last shreds of his strength to keep himself from screaming in agony and force the light burning him inside to subside. And then, as the adrenaline rush subsided and gave way to weariness, he smiled beside himself as he felt Gaia relax at the grip of the monster disappearing completely and his invisible arms wrapping around her in a protective embrace. Then darkness came and he slumped to the icy floor of the altana, his knees buckling beneath him.

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