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The Corrupted Text
As midnight approaches, Anastasia produces blindfolds from behind the altar. She binds Simon’s eyes first, then Ora’s. When she comes to me, the fabric is cool and soft on my face. She ties it tightly so that it won’t slip. “The hour has arrived,” she says, “to meet the Houses. They sing strangely. You must not be alarmed. And the Avenue is steep. You must follow the sound of my footsteps carefully. It will not do to get lost.”
She walks down the aisle. I am acutely aware of the clipped sound of
her shoes against the stone floor. Once upon a time it was the sound
of love approaching. Or what I thought was love. I shiver.
“ She is not Aro yet,” says Simon, as though he can hear my thoughts.
Anastasia’s stes have slowed. I hear Simon adjusting Ora’s dead weight on his slender back. I move in the direction of Anastasia’s clipping steps. Simon shuffles behind me.
We walk away from the altar, towards the doors, which creak open with a weight much more substantial than I seem to remember from our arrival. We step outside. The darkness floods through me. It is chilly, and damp. The world outside the chapel feels large and empty, and for a moment I am gripped by a terrible vertigo. It slides away from me as I recognize the sound of the wind rattling a weathervane atop the chapel. “Over here,” says Anatasia. I regain my bearings at least enough not to feel utterly paralyzed.
I follow the resonant clip of Anastasia’s shoes against the stone road. There is the oily sound of dirty, slow moving water and an odd smell that reminds me of the soup we ate earlier, something slippery and vegetal. We come to a bridge, wood if I am correct about the hollowness that enters the sound of Anastasia’s footsteps. I move slowly, testing the ground in front of me at every step. All the while, that strange, sad music that was so faint earlier grows louder and more insistent.
The bridge is narrow. It swings and creaks. I clutch at the narrow rail, aware of how un-martial I must appear, how un-soldierly. I can hear the river moving heavily, greasily into the dark. If one were to fall in, I imagine it would feel like falling into flesh. A wind kicks up and the bridge swings more vigorously. I hear Simon, with the extra weight on his back stumble and lurch. And ahead, Anastasia’s even clip, getting farther and farther ahead.
I sense the Houses as soon as my foot touches the far shore. They loom on either side like mountains or great leviathans, solid as rock but also strangely alive. And they sing, not in the high, thin tones we heard at the chapel, but in deep low rumblings almost beneath the auditory threshold. It unnerves me terribly. I have to see what we are facing. I have to see what these “Houses” are. I reach to tear off my blindfold, but Anastasia grabs my wrist. “You must not,” she whispers, with a touch of anger in her voice. I realize I fear the Houses. I am shaking.
Simon stumbles off the bridge. He is not strong. I don’t know how
he will carry Ora all the way to wherever we
The further down the Avenue we descend, the larger and more ominous
the Houses sound. Their rumblings grow lower and deeper, until they drop
below my ability to hear. My body trembles. Or else it is the deep silent
vibrations the Houses emit that make me shake. Finally I ask Anatasia, “Can
“ Not of their own volition.”
“ What do you mean?”
But she doesn’t respond.
“ Are they alive?”
“ Only as alive as we allow them to be.”
I feel it then. A presence at once familiar and unfamiliar, as though I had unexpectedly met my body double on a deserted road. The alien familiar thing looms before me, emitting a low drone that makes me tremble. Its frequency is the same frequency as the blood that runs through my veins. I open my mouth to speak.
hat comes out unnerves me more than anything so far. It is a low drone of the same frequency as the House.
“ This is the house of your birth,” Anastasia tells me.
“ No,” I drone, my voice not my own. “No.”
“ Do you want to go inside?”
I am filled with both dread and burning curiosity. I approach the House. An icy coldness emanates from it, but still, I am drawn towards the door. Or the mouth. I am drawn towards the locus of its voice, its low, rumbling song.
“ If Our Mother has been here since your birth, there may be modifications waiting for you,” Anastasia calls. “Are you ready for them?”
I pull back. “Modifications?” I step back further and accidentally back right into Anastasia.
“ Our Mother sometimes chooses to rewrite us,” she whispers, pressing her lips against my ear. Her lips are cold, and her breath too chills me. With her bony hand, she caresses my arm.
I draw away from her, gently, trying not to let my revulsion show. “Our Mother,” I say, “or you?”
“ There is no difference between the divine and her manifestations,” Anastasia says. There is a twinge of bitterness touched with longing in her voice.
“ You,” I say. “What have you planted for me, Anastasia?”
“ I didn’t have to warn you,” is her sullen response.
The pull of my House is almost unbearable. It calls to me, and its
“ The modifications are so slight,” Anastasia says. “You won’t even notice them.”
“ What have you left there?”
“ Nothing,” she says. “Only the smallest of small things.”
“ What I felt for you once.”
“ The smallest of small things.”
My anger at her manipulativeness is what gives me the strength to tear away, nothing more than that. “This is a journey for Ora,” I tell her. “To recover Ora. It has nothing to do with me.”
“ It has everything to do with you,” Anastasia retorts.
Slumped over Simon’s shoulder, Ora groans. We must be close. U