This is a spin-off of The Wing Wherewith We Fly. I suppose it can be read alone, but it will make much more sense if you read that first. I just had so much more to tell about Daniel and the colony and these winged people that I had to write this. I hope you enjoy it.
The title comes from three separate quotes all bundled into one:
"For death remember'd should be like a mirror, who tells us life's but breath, to trust it error."—William Shakespeare, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre"
"Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory, but it has you!"—John Irving
"Do not trust your memory; it is a net full of holes; the most beautiful prizes slip through it."—Georges Duhamel.
The earliest memory Daniel had of his colony was his mother grooming his wings.
Sitting in the dark, his back pressed to a cold stone wall and clutching a lantern to his chest, the memory could not have been more out of place, pleasant as it was. He both loved and hated his mind for recalling it.
If he concentrated, he could almost feel her fingers combing through his feathers, smoothing them down and picking out the loose ones. His sister had not been born yet, he remembered, so he had her attention all to himself. She'd finally had a day's rest from…
The birthing mother. She was learning to be the colony's next birthing mother. His father didn't like it, would rather she raised her own children instead of helping deliver others, but she'd already gotten a lot of respect for it so he couldn't do much about it. He took his frustration out on Daniel.
Stop it! This won't help. He shook his head, as if he could physically rid himself of the terribly pleasant memories. He was reluctant to let them go, afraid that he wouldn't get them back, but he eventually allowed them to recede back to a dark corner of his mind. Steeling himself once more, Daniel carried on.
Go! Before he comes back!
That sounded like his voice. He hadn't spoken, had he? No, he hadn't. Then how…?
He lasted another hour before he needed to rest. He could feel his sanity dwindling, tugging at the edges of his mind, tearing it. Just a moment's rest, that's all he needed, and then he could carry on. He let himself slide down the wall until he hit the floor, his eyes slipping shut as he did. He fell asleep almost immediately.
"Go! Before he comes back!"
Daniel stopped himself from shoving his ailing sister, helping her to stand and stumble away. He and his father had taken her on a walk through the forest to give her a break from the healer. It had started well, but then Daniel mentioned how he'd helped the healer care for her the previous day. He was proud of all he'd done (it actually wasn't much, but to someone as young as he was, it was a great accomplishment), but his father had gotten angry. He began shouting, telling Daniel that he needed to learn to care for the colony, gather food and defend against enemies, not doddle after his sister. Daniel had always been too small to be anything but a burden, he said, and then stormed off into the woods.
Daniel didn't know if he was coming back, but he wasn't taking any chances with the sick girl around. He would help her get back to the colony and take his father's punishment after.
They were almost there when they encountered their mother. She immediately saw his fear and sighed. She opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by a loud bang. Someone screamed, and a man laughed. Daniel took off in the direction of the colony, ignoring his sister's cry.
Gun smoke was filling the air. Much of his colony lay dead, men crouching over them hacking their wings off. Others were being tied up and carried away. A few managed to escape into the trees. As Daniel watched, horrified, he didn't hear the footsteps approaching from behind. When another gunshot sounded behind him, he whirled around to find his sister there, tears staining her face. She didn't need to speak for him to know who the shot had been for. He fought back his tears and grabbed her hand, pulling her away from the massacre, towards where he'd seen many of the survivors go. He ran as fast as the girl's short legs would allow, hating himself for leaving their mother behind but knowing he had no choice. He ran until…
His head hit the ground, jerking him out of his dream. He bolted upright with a gasp, furiously blinking away tears. The dream dogged him, refusing to fade away and give him some peace. Unlike some of his memories, this one was crystal clear. He remembered the smell of the smoke, the sickening sound of wings leaving bodies, the terror of not knowing if he was next. He remembered finding a group of survivors, the healer thankfully among them, and fleeing with them. He didn't know how, in between then and now, they'd gotten from England to Prussia, but he remembered water.
A growl drifted down the corridor, its source hidden in the darkness. Daniel scrambled to his feet and froze, unsure which direction to run. The monster growled again, much too close for comfort. It came from his left so he darted right, sprinting down the hall and around a corner. Here he could either turn right or continue straight. He swerved, his legs and sides aching as he ran. There were no rooms to duck into, so he could only hope he was quick enough. If only he could still fly.
Later, when he ran out of oil, he took a moment to regain his bearings in the now unbroken darkness. Apropos to nothing, the image of a boat forced itself to the front of his mind. He paused, trying to make sense of it.
A boat…when did I…? The ocean! A tradesman had taken pity on his tattered colony and ferried them across the ocean to the European mainland. He was one of the few who disagreed with how Daniel's kind was treated. Daniel remembered the man's disgust when he spoke of one of his colleagues keeping a winged child as a pet, and of every woman who wore the poor creatures' feathers on their coats and hats. The ones who did both, he said, should go straight to Hell.
He'd dropped them off on the coasts of France, leaving them with food and good wishes.
Some good that did, Daniel thought nastily. Then he cringed. It wasn't the tradesman's fault that he was in this situation. If he wanted to blame someone he should blame Alexander. Yes, this was all Alexander's fault! Without him the monsters wouldn't exist and Daniel wouldn't be trapped in this godforsaken castle with them, without oil or memories.
Wasn't that why he was going to kill him? No, that wasn't it. Alexander did something to him—to Other Daniel. It didn't matter anymore. He would do what he needed to get out and, hopefully, back to his colony.
Now all he needed was oil. It was too dark.
The door shuddered on its hinges, wood splintering off as the monster on the other side slammed into it. Stumbling a bit in his terror, Daniel hurried to conceal himself in the only cover the room provided, an old wardrobe that would stand no chance against the monster's claws. He scrambled to get himself inside, not paying attention to anything except the crisis at hand. As he shut the door, his lame wing got caught in the hinge. He swallowed a howl of pain as the monster finally succeeded and lurched inside, snarling viciously. He bit his tongue and hoped he was concealed enough. He heard the thing shuffle closer but dared not look. He could barely breathe as it paused just outside the wardrobe, searing pain lancing through his wing with every heartbeat. Then, finally, he heard it recede until it was no more, and he could breathe again.
Gingerly, Daniel extracted his wing from the door, pulling a sharp breath through his teeth when a feather snagged and stayed behind. He curled the injured wing in towards himself and huddled there, cursing whatever had made it lame in the first place. He didn't much care what had actually done it, only that the wing was ruined because of it.
He shifted, uncomfortable in the cramped space but unwilling to leave. As agitated as he was, it was a wonder that he kept himself there at all. Somehow he did, unaware of the tension leaving his body until he was drifting off to sleep.
Daniel dreamt of blurred colors, flashing lights and blinding pain. He woke dazed and unsettled, claustrophobic in the old wardrobe. A swirl of gray and white still danced across his mind, effectively blocking any rational thought.
He needed to leave. The monster could come back.
…little one. You're safe now.
Daniel stopped halfway out of the cupboard, his head cocked. That voice was so soothing. Who was it?
The walls groaned, and he jumped. He needed to leave.
The cellar was flooded. There were boxes floating in the water, as well as some paper and other small things. Daniel stood on the steps just above the water, unwilling to step in. His clothes would get wet, even if he did climb onto the boxes. Wet clothes (and wings for that matter) were very uncomfortable, and hard to run in.
He had no choice. Grimacing, he waded in, making his way to the nearest box. He'd only just pulled himself up when he heard the splashing.
Daniel pulled his legs to his chest and held his breath, hoping there wasn't a monster down here. He'd never get away, sloshing through water. He'd—
What was that? He could see its footsteps, like a ball bouncing in the water, but the monster itself was nowhere to be seen.
Was it safe? Hesitantly, he leaned over and dipped his hand into the icy water. The creature screeched, and the footsteps rushed towards him. He snatched his hand away seconds before it reached him.
As with everything in this damned castle, he figured, it was probably best to avoid it. He stood, wobbling slightly, sucked in a deep breath, and plunged in.
The water slowed him down as he tried to run. The invisible thing snarled again and gave chase, but he made it to the next box just in time. As he scrambled onto it, a feather came loose and floated to the water. He watched the monster tear it to pieces.
A quick glance around revealed the next box, only a short distance away. Could he jump to it?
It rocked dangerously when he landed on it, but he managed to stay on. Something bumped his foot and he screamed, frantically lighting his lantern. The orange glow illuminated a severed arm lying limply on the wood. It looked old, but somehow it wasn't rotting.
The monster screeched again, and, through the terror fogging his brain, Daniel had an idea. He bent down, grabbed the arm—oh, how disgusting!—and threw it as hard as he could. He faintly heard it hit the water.
Miraculously, it worked. The little demon snarled once more and splashed away, in the direction he threw the arm.
Snapping to attention, Daniel ran, jumping from box to box when he could and wading as fast as he could when they were too far apart. Soon he came to a door controlled by a wheel. He spun it quickly, in a blind panic now as the monster resumed its hunt. Then the door was open and he dived through it, nearly crying in relief when he saw the stairs beyond it. Then he was running up, up, out of the water, away from the hellish cellar.
He sat on the top stair, gasping for air and trying to calm his heart. His wing twinged, and he realized he was sitting on it.
He had to move on.
Daniel nearly sobbed when he heard the horrible moan and creaking metal. What more was there?
He saw it before it saw him. It was tall, rail thin, and one of its arms was a giant piece of metal. When it turned he saw its head was split open.
It moaned again and began lurching towards him.
Oh no, oh no. Hide! He faltered, and the thing was going to see him—there! There was a half open cell door just there. He only needed to—
The door slammed shut on his wing, and he howled in pain. He heard the monster groan, and then the door splintered. Its next swing caught the exposed part of his wing, tearing off a good chunk. Then the door caved, and Daniel was face to face with the horrible creature. He screamed, ignoring the agony piercing his wing as he managed to dodge its next swing and run.
It was fast. Twice it almost caught him, and as he ran he figured out that the more doors between him and it, the better. But still it pursued him, and he needed to rest.
He ducked into another cell and hid behind the door. The monster followed seconds later, pausing in the middle of the room when it didn't immediately find him. It turned in a slow circle, and Daniel held his breath.
Then it was gone. He cautiously pulled in a breath and then another, until he was gasping and sobbing, trembling as he curled in on himself. His wing was throbbing.
"It's gone it's gone it's gone it's gone," he whispered to the darkness. It didn't answer.
He hauled himself to his feet, hissing when his injured wing flopped down. He was halfway down the corridor when he remembered the laudanum he picked up earlier. Without breaking his stride he began digging through his bag for it.
If the monster hadn't moaned just then he never would have known it was there. It didn't really matter, though; it was too late either way.
His head snapped up moments before it struck him, sending him flying backwards. The back of his skull hit the floor hard, just as the blinding pain in his chest registered, as well as the new pain in his wing, crumpled beneath him. He couldn't even cry out.
As it turns out, that probably saved his life. He heard another groan, and then creaking metal when the thing lumbered away.
It must have thought he was dead. Daniel started to reach for his bag, but the pain was too much. Laudanum would make it better, he just needed to find it…
Finally. His fingers curled around the bottle, slowly dragging it to his mouth. The pain receded enough for him to struggle to his feet, slowly.
Something in his mind slipped.
He needed to move on.
Later, he would glance down and wonder where all the blood on his shirt came from.
There were trees below him, miles and miles of trees, but he could barely see them through the pelting rain. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed, disorienting him enough that he ran into someone flying beside him. They shoved, and they were flying low enough that the push unbalanced him and threw him into a tree. The branches snagged his wing, yanking him out of the air. It didn't keep its hold, though, and then he was plummeting to the ground—
Daniel blinked and shuddered, jolting out of the strange vision. It was familiar, but he had no idea why.
He turned a corner too sharply, dragging his wing along the wall, and jumped, thinking briefly that something in the dark had tried to grab him.
Come along, Daniel. He didn't know if that was Alexander or simply a memory of him.
He needed to continue on. The dark was starting to swallow him.