Part Three-The Patchwork Castle
Seoc MacInnes stumbled into a wall.
The reddish sandstone was warm and dry. He looked around. The snow was gone.
Had there ever been any snow?
Seoc didn’t know. Nor did he know what had become of his clothes. Though, now that he thought about it, he didn’t particularly care.
He stepped back from the wall and into the bright, late-spring sunlight, letting it wash, warm and golden, over his naked body. There were birds singing, and the world smelled of flowers and damp earth. Everything was young and growing.
Everything except the wall with which he had collided. The wall looked old. Very old.
Seoc looked around again, this time taking in more of his surroundings. He was in a clearing in the forest, facing this solitary, lonely, crumbling wall. There were no other signs of civilization in sight. No roads—not even the overgrown remains of one. No other walls, either, at least none visible from his current position.
He was suddenly struck with a profound sense of unease.
That wall…it simply did not belong.
The thought occurred to him—in a vague sense, more of a wisp of thought-fog than anything else—that he must have been dreaming. It was only this ghost of an idea that gave him the courage to approach the wall once more. He reached out, hesitantly, to touch it. When nothing resulted from the contact, he followed the wall to its end and stepped around to the other side.
Seoc found himself in what must have, at one point, been a walled garden. Long-neglected rosebushes, turned feral, grew in dense tangles along its edges, each bush heavy laden with blossoms. He paused in a gap between two of the bramble-like plants, the overgrown grass crawling upon the bare skin of his calves, and looked toward the center of the garden.
There was a sundial there, a large one, made from a slab of flat, grey stone. And beside it—no, leaning against it—a woman, naked but for the crown of flowers perched over the top of her long, flowing brown hair. She saw him, and beckoned to him to come forward.
And because that seemed to be the thing to do, he did as she had indicated.
“Who are you?” he asked, and his voice seemed peculiarly distant.
She smiled at him. “Thou dost not know me, Seoc? Hast thou not fought desperately for me? And didst thou ne’er seek to be rid of me?”
“Some have called me by that name.”
“I know your sister,” Seoc remarked, a bit sourly, his hand unconsciously rising to rub his neck where Moriba had bitten him. “Why am I here?”
“Because I called thee here.”
“Why did you call me here?”
“To prevent thee from taking thy own life.”
He glared at her. “Why am I no’ allowed ta kill myself? People do it every day, an’ you dinna stop them, do you?”
She shook her head sadly. “I cannot stop all of them. But thou art important, Seoc. Thou art one of the Six. Thou canst not die, not before the Task is complete.”
“What Six? What Task?”
She shook her head again and reached toward him, running her fingers along the side of his face. “It shall become clear to you once the Six are assembled, my child.”