Dreams from the Darkness

Part 5

I now see a world that is vastly different from the one I knew. With the knowledge that I have gained comes the ability to see past the mask that the rest of the world sees. The paint has been removed from the picture to reveal the artists sketch and it is not a pleasant sight. The hand that drew it was not of a sound mind and it is no wonder that the hands that painted over it tried to hide its horrors. This world is built on a foundation of evil and the paint is fading.

A boat gently cut through the still water as a single ore weaved from side to side. The ripples rode the surface until their lines were broken by columns that rose from the depths to support the heavy arched ceiling of the cavern. Watery echoes entangled themselves in the stone forest that had never seen the sun and the starless stone sky looked down on the tiny boat that floated on the subterranean sea.

The three occupants were silent. At the bow, a man held forth a burning torch to light the way ahead, its flame choking on the stale air, its faint light unable to penetrate the black water below. At the stern, a second man gripped an ore with both hands, pushing and pulling it in a fishtail motion. The third sat motionless in the middle of the boat, staring straight ahead to where column after column broke into the circle of light and then faded back into the darkness as it passed them by.

After a time, the boat came to rest at the edge of a ramp that rose at a steep angle to a horizontal plateau. The oarsman tied the boat to a mooring post, alongside several other boats of similar appearance, and footsteps replaced the sound of rippling water as the torch wielder led the small party to the top of the ramp. The glow of firelight could be seen in the distance and sounds of hammering grew louder as the three men made their way towards the gathering. Columns obscured their view until they reached the outskirts of the fire's glow and a congregation of robed figures was revealed.

A small group of the priests were chanting somewhere in the shadows. They spoke words that had no earthly translation in a mesmerising tone that was aided by the cavernous echoes of their voices. The majority of the robed priests were busy preparing something. Some were carrying tools and lengths of timber, moving and stacking crates of unknown content. Others erected wooden scaffolding around a structure that was being built at the centre of the gathering. A few turned their heads to look at the three visitors but nobody approached them.

They skirted the workers and moved beyond to where the chanting had its source. The sounds faded as distance separated them and the noise of construction was all but lost. The shadows concealed the elite gathering of high priests where they waited patiently for the group from the boat to join them. As they approached, a sharp wind erupted and died almost immediately, taking the torchlight with it. The three were left standing in darkness, the one who had sat in the middle of the boat looking around nervously.


His eyes adjusted to the near absence of light and shapes separated themselves from the columns. The source of the chanting lay deeper in the cavern but that was not why he was here. The reason he was here was close at hand and every sense he owned told him so. The torchbearer was the first to speak as he lowered the smouldering stick he had been carrying.

"He came to us only an hour ago. We have brought him as you asked."

The torchbearer and oarsman stepped aside and something approached the remaining visitor, slowly circling him in awkward steps. The sounds it made as it walked were not that of a man. They were the only sounds to share the silence with the chanting and they teased his senses, daring him to flee from that which he sought out. His dream had brought him here. A creature called him; a thing so repulsive that he believed it was concocted by a diseased part of his brain. But here he was, standing before it now, wishing he had never went to sleep that night.

He couldn't see it clearly but he knew it was there, scrutinising him with eyes that did not require light and looking deeper into his soul than even he could see himself. Then the voices spoke. High and low pitched at once, two voices in perfect, unnerving harmony that cut through the air to reach his ears. "Do you know who We are?"

The words sent an immobilising rush through his body and he forgot to answer. The voices spoke again in more impatient tones. "Do you know who We are?"

"I...do." His voice was almost inaudible and he hoped the creature heard it to save him from a third request.

It moved closer. "Speak Our name."

The fear and confusion that tortured his mind almost caused him to forget to answer again but he gained enough control to say a word he had never heard before. "Du'drosmos."

"Speak it again." The tone in which it asked almost suggested a sense of pleasure.

"Du'drosmos," he said a second time, trying to sound more confident.

It moved closer so that its cold breath filled his nostrils. The unnatural sounds of its body were more audible now than ever and for the first time he was thankful for the absence of light.

"Do you fear Us?" The words reached from its mouth and clung to his cheeks in a wet grip he wanted to wipe away. He knew the answer without thinking. It just took all his effort to say it.


It moved away, severing the link it used to drain willpower and drive fear. He suddenly realised how fast his heart was beating and took deep breaths to try to slow it down. The muscles in his neck and shoulders were threatening to snap before he forced them to relax. In less menacing tones, it spoke again. "Keep that fear in your heart for it is not unfounded. We are to be feared...and worshiped. We are here to bring changes that mankind has not seen in a thousand lifetimes and you are to become part of that. You are a sculpture."

It wasn't a question but he answered anyway. "Yes."

"Your hands know the feel of stone. You see shapes that lay hidden deep in the rock and you draw them out with your hammer and chisel. You will do this for Us. You know what We want, you have seen it in your dreams. Go now and take up your tools. Bring the images We have shown you to life. Use the skill We have given you in Our service and you will know the rewards We have promised."

A hand grabbed his arm from behind. "This way," a voice said in his ear and the two men from the boat led him away in the direction from which they had come. After a few paces, the torch flared back to life but he didn't look behind for fear of what he might see. His dreams were vivid but he didn't want to believe that such a creature could exist outside of them. He decided to let the darkness keep that which belonged to it.

As they walked, a figure ran past them towards the place where he had encountered the creature. "They are beginning to hatch." A young man stood before the high priests, breathing lung-fulls of stale air and pointing behind him.

The voices said. "Show Us."

The man led the group to the edge of the light that illuminated the construction area and then veered to the side where water ran down a smooth slope to feed the underground lake. The light form the torches barely reached the nest that lay in the shadows of a column at the edge of the man-made river. Two large oval-shaped cocoons, about the size of a sheep's head, where suspended between the ground and a toppled column in something that resembled a web of slime. They were the spawn of some creature unknown to man and possible unrelated to any creature on this earth.

One was making a squelching sound as its occupant tried to break through its surroundings. The man who had drawn their attention to the cocoons stepped closer to inspect the second one, only to find that it was split in two and the soft shell was empty. He stood up and turned to face the others but before he could convey the news he screamed as something took hold. Two tentacles twisted around his leg and squeezed until the pain was almost unbearable. Then two blade like pincers cut through skin and bone to sever his leg beneath the knee. He fell onto his stomach as the creature retreated with its prize, flopped over the edge and splashed into the water.

It happened in an instant, before he had time to take a second breath to scream again. One of the onlookers pulled him away as the other cocoon split open and another creature slumped onto the ground in a pool of ooze. It flailed about for a moment, unwrapping its tentacles that extended several feet from its body. Resembling some sort of flat fish, it slid across the ground and joined its sibling in the water with a splash and rode the current to the still lake below.

The chants were joined by cries of pain, a natural accompaniment to the words had they been understood. The arched ceiling echoed the sound and the water carried it to every corner of the cavern for all to hear. It was a taste of things to come, a teaser for those who longed for it and a warning to those who feared it. Physical pain is such a transient thing. It hurts and it heals. Another pain with its distinct cries and invisible wounds will soon be heard. It will echo without, and also within, and time will not be the healer, it will be the tormentor.

I hide from sight as I wander through the maze of city streets. I see their influence everywhere I look. Every building is of their design, unwittingly constructed by those who hear them. Every arched doorway or angled roof has its purpose in their plan. They are puppet masters and their strings are knotted in our minds.

Lori awoke to the sound of track passing beneath the train. Shaded daylight streamed through the cabin window and the smell of Jasmine was in the air. Ashes still formed the symbol that the incense sticks had made when the five glowing tips had seen her off to a peaceful nights sleep. Almost twelve hours later, she felt calm and refreshed.

"Good morning." Kay's voice was a welcome sound. Lori turned to look at the dark haired woman who sat at the foot of the bed wearing her red robe with the green dragon. Her face was drawn and her eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. She still managed a smile. "You seem to have slept well."

"I can't say the same for you," came the response as Lori drew herself out of bed. "You don't have to do this, you know."

Kay rubbed her eyes and yawned. "I do. At least until your learn how to protect yourself."

"Then you better start teaching me because you won't be able to keep this up for long."

"I will teach you, but you need time to rest and clear your mind. It will take a while for the events of the last few days to lose their edge and until they do, you'll need a little help."

"Thank you for watching over me at night."

"It's my pleasure," Kay said, getting off the bed to stretch her legs.

Lori looked down at her night-dress. "I should go back to my cabin and get changed. We'll be arriving in Constantinople later today."

Kay took off her robe and held it open behind Lori. "Here, put this on. We can't have you wandering around the train in your night clothes."

Lori put her arms through the sleeves and tied the silk sash at the front. It felt warm and soft against her skin. "It's a little big," she said, looking down to where it almost trailed on the floor.

Kay lifted Lori's hair out from behind the collar and let it fall down around her shoulders. "It looks good on you," she said, turning her around, "and the green matches your eyes."

"It does?"

"Yes. Now, go and get changed and then get something to eat in the dining car. I'm going to sleep for a few hours but I'll join you before we reach the city."

Lori nodded and left Kay to get her sleep.

She returned to her cabin and dressed, but not before modelling the silk robe before a mirror like a child who had gained access to her mother's wardrobe. She smiled inwardly at her playful immaturity and hung it alongside her own clothes that seemed so ordinary and colourless in comparison. She could still smell the Jasmine in her hair as she brushed it and for the few hours that followed, she felt the same as she did when she had stepped on the train for the first time. The Bulgarian countryside regained the mystery of a foreign land and Constantinople, the city of mosques, was looming ever closer.

She made her way to the dining car and walked its length in search of a table. The afternoon was bright and the dining car was alive with laughter and friendly conversation. Everyone was dressed impeccably. An old general sat with his wife and son, the breast of the older mans uniform more laden with medals than his protégé. The young man smiled and nodded to Lori as she passed. She did the same in response and kept walking.

A young couple held hands across a table, possibly newlyweds taking their honeymoon on the most romantic train journey in the world. Lost in each other's eyes and speaking in hushed tones, they were oblivious to everything and everyone around them, even the shrill laughter of the loud woman at the next table. She was old, dressed in expensive furs, gold jewellery and adorned with every colour of precious stone imaginable. She was with a young, scruffy looking man with a dark, weather-beaten face and obviously less refined from the way he hunched over his bowl of soup and slurped from the awkwardly held spoon.

She found an empty table near the end of the carriage. A waiter took her order and she sat back to observer the habits of a society she had only ever seen from a distance. She had always believed that rich people do the strangest things. The world revolves around the earning and spending of money. The average person spends more time earning but the few who can pass their days spending have to become more and more inventive to keep themselves amused.

She was watching the old woman laughing at the mannerisms of her young companion when her vision was suddenly blocked by a rather large man. He was middle aged and of average height but his waist suggested a lifestyle of little exercise and strong jaw muscles. "Good afternoon", he said in a deep voice. "I have been travelling alone for some time now and I was wondering if I could have the pleasure of your company, as I don't think I could face another meal with only the passing countryside to keep me amused." He smiled from beneath a thick moustache and waited for a response.

Lori hesitated for a moment but invited him to join her. "Tim Burlington at your service," he said, reaching into his jacket pocket and producing a business card.

"Loraine Winters," Lori said, taking the card and reading it.



"You're an editor?"

"Yes, of the renowned monthly publication Unbelievable World. You've probably heard of it," he added confidently and turned to the side and called "Waiter!"

Lori looked blank. "Umm...I don't read many magazines," she said apologetically but, if he heard her, he appeared unconcerned.

A waiter stepped up to the table. "Yes, sir. What can I get you."

"I'm famished. Bring me a plate of whatever you can prepare the fastest," the big man said. The waiter paused for a moment at the strange request, made a note and left.

Mr Burlington turned to Lori again. "Let me guess. You like romance novels, don't you."

"No, I can't say I've read many of those," Lori said.

His eyes narrowed and then shot open again. "I've got it." He snapped his fingers and pointed straight at her. "Mystery. You love a good murder to solve."

She shook her head again. "No."

"Alright then," he conceded. "But you're a writer. I can always tell a writer when I see one. Tell me, what do you write about?"

A lucky guess, perhaps. She didn't care. She was just happy to find something she could talk about. "Adventure. I like to write adventure stories in my own world with my own characters."

"Ah, now that requires imagination. I bet you've concocted some great stories in that head of yours and there's even one brewing as we speak. Tell me, are you published?"

"Oh, no. I just write to pass the time. My stories aren't all that good."

"If you're not a critic of your own work then it's not worth reading. However, that doesn't mean it's bad; only the readers can be the judge of that."

The waiter returned and placed plates of food before both of them. "Will there be anything else, madam?"

"No thank you," Lori replied.

"And what about you sir?"

"Yes. Can you bring me another of these," he said, pointing at his plate.

"There is something wrong with your food, sir?" the waiter asked.

"No, it looks like a fine meal. There's just not enough of it. Another should do nicely."

"Very well, sir." He nodded politely and left.

"So tell me," Burlington began between mouthfuls of food. "What brings you aboard the Orient Express?"

"I'm assisting a professor in some research for the University of London."

"Oh, that sounds interesting. What kind of research is he doing?"

"He's a she, actually, and her research...just involves some old books. It's not very interesting at all," she added, hoping he wouldn't ask further on the subject.

"Old books? So, she's a historian. I'm more of a twentieth century book man myself and to be honest, you don't look like the sort of girl to have your head that far in the past."

She wasn't offended, but it did seem like a strange statement. "Well, what does a girl with her head in the past, as you put it, look like?"

"I don't know," he said, making good headway through his meal. "A little older, maybe. And glasses, you definitely need glasses." He paused momentarily on seeing her amused response and added non-apologetically, "Excuse my generalisation but I've travelled widely and I have found that we live in a world of stereotypes. If you're not a stereotype then you're very lucky to have something that few others have.

"I, on the other hand, pride myself on being the stereotype of a fat businessman who likes his food, his wine, luxurious living and foreign travel. 'You only live once', is a great motto for those who can afford it."

At that point, the waiter returned with his second plate of food. He placed it before him and tried to escape before another request could be made. He wasn't quick enough.


"Yes, sir," came the slightly annoyed response.

"What are these things?" Burlington asked, pointing to some food on his plate.

"Those are peppers, sir, stuffed with various herbs and spices."

"They're very tasty. Bring me some more."

The waiter paused and then answered through his teeth. "Of course sir."

Burlington turned to Lori again. "They are rather tasty. You should try some."

"No thank you," she said politely. "I'd be more interested in hearing about your travels if you have the time to tell me about them. Where have you been?"

"Where have I been?" He laughed. Those four words were the spark that set off an explosion of stories that lasted far into the afternoon. He had visited almost every European country and had a story to tell about each. He'd travelled Africa, Asia, America, both north and south, and had spent a little time around Australia and New Zealand.

He'd seen it all; the vastly different environments and living conditions of cultures from all around the world. The range of religions and beliefs, linked in many ways and unique in others. His stories changed form the dramatic to adventurous and then to the bizarre. Outrageous tales of Japanese fire walkers were followed by dramatic stories of cultures with such simple lives as to have a life expectancy of thirty years. Settlements of people existing in the most adverse conditions and surviving all that the world had to throw at them. The arctic conditions of northern Russia contrasted with the blistering heat of central Africa.

After several more side orders and a generous desert, they moved to the salon car so that Burlington could continue with his stories. Lori had warmed to his friendly personality and didn't mind the subtle exaggerations he slipped in for dramatic effect, nor the colourful language that sometimes lined his stories. He appeared to be grateful for the company and was obviously at home talking about himself and his travels.

The train had crossed from Bulgaria into Turkey and it was late evening before Kay joined them. They had passed through Corlu, Tcherkesseui and Sinakli and Constantinople was less than an hour away. Kay greeted them, mildly surprised to find Lori had spent the entire day talking to Mr Burlington but relieved that she had found someone to take her mind of past events. Burlington quickly realised that it was time for him to leave but took the time to enquire where they were staying in the city. In the rush to leave Rome, Kay had not made any reservations.

"I'm staying at the Pera Palas Hotel in the Beyoglu area," Burlington said. "If you haven't decided on accommodation yet then I highly recommend it. I'll be travelling there directly if you care to join me."

Lori looked at Kay with eyes seeking approval to accept his offer. "The Pera Palas it is then," Kay conceded.

"Excellent!" Burlington said with a jolly laugh. "I'll see you on the platform." With that, he took leave of their company and returned to his cabin, but not before stopping off in the dining car to finish off any food they may have had left in the kitchen.

Kay turned to Lori with a sly look. "I see you didn't have to spend the day alone after all."

"He's a very interesting man," Lori said. "And, he approached me first, just in case you thought otherwise."

"I'm sure he did," Kay teased.

"He's an editor," Lori said, showing his card to Kay. "He's travelled here from Venice after receiving a telegram from an associate in Constantinople. He's following up a big story for his magazine."

Kay recognised the name of the publication on the back of his business card and held back a laugh. "I'm sure it will be a great story, whatever it is." It was the best she could do without completely discrediting him. "Come on. We better get ready for our arrival."

They returned to their cabins and repacked what few clothes they had taken from their suitcases. Lori put the silk robe into her suitcase instead of bothering Kay with it now. She could return it at the hotel.

Lori returned to the saloon car to get a better view than the small window in her cabin offered. The train slowed down and entered the city form the south-west, passing the remains of the ancient walls that were no longer able to contain the sprawling Turkish city. Lori couldn't keep a look of excitement from her face and ran from one side of the car to the other as she got her first view of a world that had only existed in pictures, until now.

"I thought I might find you here," a voice said from behind her. Lori turned briefly but returned her attention to the enchanting world outside with a smile.

"It's exactly like I imagined it," she said. "It's not like the pictures in those old books but I knew a city like this could never loose its charisma."

The train followed the coastline along Sultanahmet where the city bordered the Sea of Marmara and the unmistakable minarets of the Blue Mosque and the Haghia Sophia pierced the darkening sky. Separated by over a thousand years and built by rulers of different empires, they stood together and shared the skyline as if time had no influence on them.

The train curved around Seraglio Point, skirting the great Topkapi Palace that had seen the passing of almost five centuries. Every sultan from Mehmet II to Abdul Mecit I had walked its halls and courtyards since the Ottoman empire had seized the city in the fifteenth century. Lori could see the faded illustrations of their faces in her mind and felt humbled to be passing the walls that once protected them.

For the last time on its eastbound journey, the Simplon Orient Express came to a halt. The magnificent Sirkeci Station was its final destination where the passengers were greeted by an architectural montage of Constantinople's varied traditions. The Byzantine alternating stone and brick courses and the Muslim horseshoe arches around the windows were a traveller's first indication that they were a long way from home. The next hint came in the sudden wave of street traders that flooded the platform with their baskets and trays of wares, shouting in Turkish and English and hoping to lighten the wallets of the excitable tourists that were taking their first step into this foreign city.

Safely standing behind the window of the saloon car, Lori watched the animated picture before her and whispered to herself. "Constantinople. I'm finally here."

I travel south, away from the city and away from those who search for me. I have become a horror of the night and wander in the darkness where dreams take shape. I am now part of those dreams, those nightmares that seep into the minds of the sleeping and they will awaken with the same screams that torture my mind.

The Pera Palas hotel was a welcome sight for Lori's weary eyes. She hadn't realised how tired she was until the fresh air hit her outside Sirkeci Station. She had done very little all day besides sit and talk with Burlington but the long train journey had drained her energy nevertheless.

Accompanied by Burlington, Kay and Lori had forced their way through the crowds of street traders that flocked around any foreigners that looked like they may have some money to spend. They found a taxi and managed to convince the driver to leave without trying to squeeze another few people in to the automobile and were soon on their way across the old Galata Bridge to Beyoglu. Lori wanted to be excited and marvel at everything around her but she found her mind drifting to the prospect of a large bed and a soft pillow and by the time they had arrived at the hotel the taxi ride had become a blur of images in her mind.

There were uniformed porters carrying luggage for the array of foreigners that were pulling up to the hotel's door. Kay and Burlington queued at the reception desk while Lori took a seat in the lobby. The interior was beautifully decorated with spectacular chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. A string quartet could be heard playing soft music in the lounge at the other end of the lobby and Lori had to fend off the alluring call of sleep. There was a bed somewhere upstairs waiting for her.

Room 411, Lori's room, was one of the more luxurious in the hotel. Kay replied with something about the possibility of them being here for a while when Lori commented on the need for such a room and she was too tired to pursue the matter. Kay left her to get changed and she did so after unpacking the case that the porter had left at the foot of the bed.

Kay returned with some incense sticks cut to different lengths, lit them and placed them in the same formation as the night before. Lori was already beneath the covers and her eyes followed Kay around the room until she was finished preparing the area surrounding the bed. She turned to look at her. "It will be alright. You can sleep now," she said, seeing hints of fear in the eyes that looked back. "I won't let it enter your dreams tonight."

Fatigue had caused her to forget about what lay hidden in the night but she remembered all too clearly now with sleep just around the corner. She managed a smile anyway. "Thank you," she said, blinked a few more times and then bravely closed her eyes, waiting for sleep to take her and bracing herself for what lay beyond.

Everything was silent and still, all but the swirling smoke of the incense as its fragrance dispersed through the air and the gentle rise and fall of the bed covers as the Jasmine scent carried Lori to a land of pleasant dreams. Kay stood watching her, unable to take her eyes off the sweet face and blonde hair that peeped out from beneath the covers. Such vulnerability and bravery in one person, Kay thought. If only things were different. If only some other research had taken me to your shop. If only Rome had yielded no answers. If only we weren't two thousand miles away from London, stumbling blindly through the darkness looking for answers to questions we do not even understand. If only things were different, then maybe...

She closed the distance between them and brushed some stray strands of blonde hair from Lori's cheek.

...but things aren't different.

She turned away to dim the lights and prepare for a night of relaxation and mediation, unaware of Lori's eyes creeping open and closed again and a hint of a smile coming to her face.

Lori took a sharp breath and awoke with a start. Her eyes shot open and for an instant she thought she was paralysed, but her motor skills returned and she frantically threw off the bed covers, unaware of where she was. Then she spotted Kay. She was standing in the middle of the room in a strange position, one arm extended in front, palm facing out, the other arm extended behind with her fingers held together to make a downward facing point.

"It was in my dreams again," Lori said in a panicked voice. "I thought you said..."

"No, it wasn't in your dreams," Kay said, returning slowly to a finishing position. "Not like before. You were just dreaming about it. I can stop its invasion of your dreams but it would be dangerous for me to stop you creating your own dreams."

"No, Kay. It was in my dreams. I know it." Lori was getting more on edge with each word.

Kay sat beside her on the bed and put an arm around her shoulders. "Tell me what happened in your dream."

Lori paused, trying to think. "I can't remember. I just know it was there. It was in my dream."

Kay drew her close. "Ssshhh... Lori, you're safe now. It was just a dream like any other. There's nothing to worry about."

"I don't know, Kay. It seemed real." Lori looked up at her with frightened eyes. "Are you sure."

"I'm positive," Kay reassured her with a smile.

Lori got up and looked around the room. It looked so much better in the daylight and without the hindrance of fatigue to dull its splendour. It was even bigger and more luxurious than the one she had in Rome. Everything was so clean and new. It was very modern, very European, but still had the hints of Turkish culture as a charming reminder of where they were.

She turned to Kay. "Remember you said you'd show me how to do some of those moves sometime. You said it would help me protect myself. Can you show me now?"

"Yes. Why not?" Kay said after a moments thought and led Lori to the centre of the floor. "It's going to take a long time to learn enough for it to be of any real use to you but there's no harm in making a start. Just don't expect anything to happen too quickly."

"I won't."

"You're going to have to explore a lot of different mediation techniques before you'll gain sufficient control of your mind. We can start off with some Qui Gong and then move on to a Tai Chi form later. First of all, there are a few things to remember. Moving faster doesn't mean you'll benefit quicker. In fact, it will result in the opposite. Everything has to be done at the right pace."

"Alright," Lori responded, nodding.

"Also, don't force your fingers straight. Let them relax and curl slightly but don't let them touch each other. Keep your tongue touching the top of your mouth so that it completes a circle around your body."

"Alright," Lori replied again.

"Finally, make sure you're not wearing any metal jewellery. Metal stops your chi energy flowing freely."

Lori wriggled her fingers at Kay. "No jewellery."

Kay smiled. "Follow what I do." She extended both hands in front of her and raised and lowered them slowly, bending her knees to follow the motion of her arms.

"Breath in as you lift up and out as you drop down. Imagine you are lifting your arms through water. Let it flow around them, delaying their ascent and softening their descent. Your whole body is relaxed, no more tension than that which you need to move."

Lori followed the movements, not quite as gracefully as Kay but as close as any beginner could. "How am I doing?" Lori asked after a few repetitions.

"It's a start," Kay said, stopping. "You're still too stiff though. Your arms are too rigid. Everything is tense."

"Relax more," Lori said to herself and repeated the movement a few more times. "Any better?"

Kay moved around her, placing her hands on her shoulders and feeling along her neck and back muscles. "See how tense you are. It's like your muscles are made of wire. You have to relax or you're your Chi energy cannot flow. This sort of tension is unhealthy."

"I can't relax any more than this," Lori said, letting her hands fall to her sides. "Is there a different one we can do?"

"Not before we find some way to get some of that tension out of your body and I know exactly what you need," Kay said with a wry smile. "Get dressed. We'll have some breakfast and then I'm taking you to experience one of Turkey's best traditions."

Lori knew better than to ask where they were going. It was going to be a surprise. They had breakfast in the hotel restaurant - some feta-type cheese, tomatoes, olives and cucumber, as well as bread, butter, honey and jam, all served with tea - and then stepped out into the bustling Turkish city. The medieval Galata tower rose high into the skyline, far above any of its neighbouring buildings. Lori found herself looking straight into the face of history and suddenly everything she had learned about seemed more real.

They made the short journey up Asmali Mescit Sokagi and onto Istiklal Cadessi by foot, passing close to the Mevlevi Monastery. Once home to one of several sects of Sufis, a controversial mystical branch of Islam, the infamous Whirling Dervishes used to use music and dance to bring its practitioners into direct communication with Allah. It now housed the best collection of Divan literature, classical Ottoman poetry, in all of Turkey.

They moved north along Istiklal Cadessi, getting no more than passing glances from the local citizens, and finally turned down a side street. "This is it," Kay said, stopping outside an old building.

"Hamam." Lori read the sun-faded sign. "What's that?"

"It's a Turkish bath," Kay said with a grin and didn't wait for Lori's reaction before leading her inside.

Soon Lori found herself in the Camekan, the entrance hall and the first of the three rooms where she was given a towel and slippers and instructed to change in one of the surrounding cubicles. Some women sat around a central fountain drinking tea and talking. Lori caught a few strange glances but she found that she didn't know the people of the city well enough to read their meaning.

Kay was waiting when she emerged from the cubical wrapped in a towel. "I don't know about this, Kay," she said with a worried look.

"You'll love it," Kay replied and without another word led her through the Sogukluk, an intermediate room where a waiting attendant handed dry towels to those emerging from the third room, and into the Hararet, the hot room. The centre was occupied by a large marble plinth below a dome pierced by small star-like windows. Wooden benches lined the walls between the marble basins and taps for washing.

Lori was immediately struck by the heat on entering the room and found it difficult to breathe for a couple of breaths before adjusting to the saturated air. There was a fragrance of eucalyptus and other oils in the air and a thin sheen formed on both women almost immediately.

"Let's sit for a while," Kay said, indicating towards a wooden bench at the far side of the room. They took a seat near one of the washing points. "If this doesn't relax you then nothing will."

Lori smiled and self-consciously pulled the towel up a little higher. They sat without talking for a while before Lori broke the silence. "What do you plan to do now that you're here in Constantinople?"

Kay thought for a moment. "I have to find out what I can about Zoras Zakythinos. If he really wrote the manuscript then I need to know who he was. I have quite a few contacts in the libraries and museums around here. If there's information to be found then it shouldn't remain hidden for too long."

"What about Du'drosmos?" Lori asked suddenly, the sound of the name making her feel uncomfortable she spoke it.

Kay turned to her and answered truthfully without hesitation. "I don't know. I don't know what it wants or how it is linked with the Templars and the manuscript. I don't even know if it has escaped The Dark Lord of Koth or if it is acting in his service. These are the questions I hope to have answered here." She took Lori's hand in hers. "Look, don't let it worry you. I can deal with this. I brought you here to relax so worry about more important things like which mosque you're going to visit first."

"Can't I come with you to the libraries?" Lori asked cautiously in case Kay believed she would slow her down.

"Of course you can, if you feel up to it."

She was reassured by the words. Kay was just looking out for her. "I'm as involved in this as you are. I just want to help."

They took a kese each, and began to scrub their bodies with it. The coarse cloth left their skin feeling a little raw but more open to the effects of the steam. They washed the soapy lather off at the washing basin and made their way to the centre of the marble plinth. Kay took a small cushion and placed it on the floor. "Lie down," she commanded Lori with a grin. "It's time for you to do some relaxing."

Lori lay face down on the smooth marble with her head resting on the cushion and Kay knelt beside her. "Now, just trust me." Kay turned the towel that covered Lori so that it opened at the back and then released the folds that held it in place. A streak of nervousness rushed through Lori but it quickly subsided as Kay's hands took hold of her shoulders and started rubbing them gently. Her hands were lubricated with massage oils and they glided over Lori's smooth body with ease. She began with small movements that worked the surface of the skin and gradually got deeper so that the muscles were coaxed to move with Kay's guidance. Then her thumbs began to press into her shoulders at the base of her neck, working out knots in the muscles with deliberate circular movements.

Lori's natural reaction at first was to resist the external forces that were manipulating her but she eventually gave in to the new sensation as Kay's fingers overpowered the will to resist. Lori closed her eyes to reduce her number of senses and give heightened awareness to the remaining, touch being the most prominent of all. She began to breathe slower and deeper as she released herself to the pleasure that had its source in the tall dark woman.

Leaving the shoulders, Kay's hands moved lower down her back. Strong fingers played with her skin as they made their way along its length, guiding confused muscles in the right direction and subjecting any pools of tension to some extra pressure. Lori flinched several times as a ticklish nerve was found or as the sensitive skin around her lower ribs was being awakened. Thumbs then climbed her back again on either side of her spine, carefully probing and manipulating the muscles and tendons that held the fragile bones in place.

Lori was being drowned in wave after wave of intoxicating pleasure. Kay's hands had a monopoly on her body and she wasn't sure she could regain control even if she wanted to. Her mind was in ecstasy and it had no intention of returning to a place where sensations such as these could not be experienced. It felt like her body was on fire and she had left the border of pain and pleasure far behind, travelling deep into a new land.

After some time, Kay's hands left her back and followed a rarely explored trail along her triceps, gently pinching and bringing all the nerves and vessels to life. As her thumbs worked the back of her arm, her fingers reached underneath to work the biceps. They then moved past her elbow and onto her forearm. Before Lori had realised, Kay had finished with one arm and was working on the other.

When she thought she had reached the edge of sensation, another excited nerve would seed a shiver in the base of her neck that rushed through her body in a split second and fizzled out to leave a calming sense of tranquillity. She didn't have to fight against unpleasant memories or struggle with whispers of unwanted sounds any more. Her mind was so empty of worry that she could have been a child again.

Her legs were last to receive Kay's attention and they got the same sort of sensuous stimulation that the rest of her body had received. Inch by inch they were caressed, Kay's fingers finding hidden muscles that Lori didn't even know she had. Her hands ran along toned thighs and tender calves, making sure that nothing went unexplored.

For Lori, the whole experience seemed to last forever but it was still over too soon. She had been silent throughout and Kay waited for a reaction. Lori turned slowly, holding the towel to her chest with one arm and leaning on the other, and looked up at Kay. "That was..." she began but found herself lost for words and shook her head sheepishly. "Where did you learn to do that?"

"I have many skills," Kay replied with a wink. "I learned a lot in China."

"I wish I could do the same for you," Lori said, lazy eyes looking through the steam.

"There is something you can do for me. Close your eyes and think about how you feel right now. Don't try to put words to it, just try to remember."

Lori closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She let her mind probe her senses and emotions, wading through the contrasting combination of stimulation and tranquillity. The encompassing feeling that was present was easily distinguished because she had never felt like this before in her life. She savoured it.

"Now, open your eyes and choose something that will remind you of it. Make a mental association between a physical object and the state you are in now and I'll teach you how to return to this state whenever you need to. Have you got something?"

Without taking her eyes of Kay, Lori answered. "Yes."

The remainder of the day had a somewhat new feel to it for Lori. Her body was rejuvenated and her mind was relaxed. All her worries seemed to have disappeared and she was content to carry on with the research that had brought her so much misery. It wasn't just a mind blocking numbness that allowed her to forget what had happened. Her mind was clear and she was somehow able to accept what had happened. The fear was gone, her worries were controlled and her primary goal was not to try to cope with what had happened any more. It was to discover its source and how to stop it before it accomplished whatever it had come here to do.

It was well after midday by the time they left the Turkish Bath and after briefly returning to the hotel to gather some research materials, Kay and Lori made their way to the closest library that Kay believed would be of any use to them. Their journey took within view of some of Constantinople's best-known landmarks. Lori was tempted to give in to Kay's suggestion and take time to relax by visiting some of the mosques and other historic buildings that had become tourist attractions in recent years, but she was determined to help with the research. She couldn't let Kay carry the burden herself, not as long as she could help.

The day was unfruitful but both of them had been prepared for that. No mystery as dark and complex as this could be solved in so short a time and Kay didn't believe too much in luck. Jack had only visited Constantinople once during his years of researching the manuscript but it was as unproductive as the other cities he had visited. Armed with the name Zoras Zakythinos, however, Kay hoped to have more success.

Because of their late start, their time at the library had been rushed but Kay was satisfied that there was nothing of interest to be found here. Kay had taken the books written in foreign languages and Lori was given those written in English. Most of the older books had no reference section while many of the more modern books had references to volumes that were missing from the library. Kay recorded the names in the hope that they would turn up in another library in the forthcoming days.

Lori found herself pausing from time to time to watch Kay from a distance. On one occasion, she stopped at the edge of a bookshelf while returning from the main floor with an armful of books. Kay was leaning over an old volume, her head resting on her left hand while her right held a pencil, poised over some notepaper in anticipation of finding something worthwhile. Her blue eyes scanned pages with exceptional speed and Lori could only dream of knowing the thoughts behind them. They didn't speak much during the day but simply working with her brought a joy to Lori's heart, the kind that she had long forgotten existed as a result of her solitary existence in her Grandfather's shop.

At closing time they gathered up their notes, awash with names of manuscripts, titles of books, authors and a wealth of other information that made sense only to the hand that wrote them. It was assumed that the list would grow exponentially over the next few days as various libraries and museums were visited and revisited, but neither Kay nor Lori dreaded the prospect. Despite the dark subject and the possibility of finding nothing at the end, they found strength in one other that working alone would have deprived them of.

They stepped out into the cooling air of an August evening and quickly realised that they hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. "Don't worry," Lori said when Kay apologised for forgetting to take a break to eat. "I used to do the same back in London when I got engrossed in a book. Sometimes I think I would have starved to death if my grandfather wasn't around to remind me when it was mealtime."

They left the library and walked the same route they had taken earlier in the day. This time, however, another figure walked the route with them, using shadows and alleyway entrances to his advantage. Always out of sight, always blending into the crowd, always close enough to see them turn the next corner and always far enough away to be just another pedestrian in a foreign city.

They brought their notes back to the hotel and made their way to the restaurant. They took seats at a small table and scanned the menu that had English translations for the foreign visitors. After a few moments, Kay set down her menu. "Do you see anything you like?" she asked Lori.

"I'm not sure yet," she replied, not taking her eyes of the menu.

Kay hesitated for a moment. "How about we eat somewhere else," she suggested, causing Lori to look up from her menu. "I mean, if you want to, that is."

"Of course. Where did you have in mind?"

"I know a great little place down by the water. Great food, beautiful views."

"That sounds charming," Lori said with a smile.

They left the menus on the table and slipped out of the restaurant. They walked downhill from the hotel to the waterfront and along the cobbled towpath, passing many market stalls where traders would be selling their wares late into the night. The city's face was beginning to change. For some a day's work was over, for others it was just beginning.

They came to a stop outside a little restaurant that had a terrace extending from its second floor over the towpath, supported by an arch. At Kay's request, they were guided to a table for two, right at the edge of the balcony. Those seated there could see out over the Bosphorus to the east and the Golden Horn to the south, the vast waterways that split Constantinople through the centre and gave it its life. The calm evening left the waters still and they carried the city sounds on their smooth surface.

The intermittent cries of distant sea birds could be heard as they scanned the depths of the water from a great height in search of their dinner. The periodic calls of street traders, alternating between Turkish and English, rose from the towpath below were tourists gathered to admire the foreign craftsmanship. Mosque bells rang from their minarets where the muezzin called the followers of Allah to evening prayer. All this was set to a backdrop of the faint chugging of the Bosphorus ferry as it brought its passengers from Sirkeci port in Seraglio Point to Harem on the Asian side.

A waiter approached them, wearing black trousers, a red waistcoat and a small red hat. He handed them a menu each and left them to look over it. "Let me order for you," Kay said to Lori. Lori accepted and when the waiter returned Kay ordered for both of them in his native language.

Lori spent long moments watching the stillness of the world around her. It was as if the city was slowing down, threatening to come to a complete stop. Uskudar, on the Asian side, was a mass of domed roofs and pointed minarets, painted between the sky and the sea and bathing in the last rays of sunlight that the day had to offer. The only signs of life were the boats that casually drifted to and from its piers, laden with goods or passengers, or both.

"This is wonderful," Lori said, almost in a whisper.

"I uses to think so too," Kay replied, "but it's hard to love something that is beautiful on the outside when you know it has a black heart."

"Is it really that black?" Lori asked quietly.

"If you had seen some of what I've seen, you might think so too." Kay looked deep into Lori's eyes. "Or maybe not. Maybe you could still see past that to what really matters." She looked away again. "Maybe I could have at one time too but that Kay died along with the rest of the expedition. Nobody really survived that night."

After some thoughtful silence, Lori said aloud what she had been thinking for a long time. "You miss him a lot, don't you?"

Kay smiled softly, not surprised any more that Lori could read her mind. "This was our favourite place to eat. We spent long hours here watching boats pass or playing silly games like identifying mosques from their domes and minarets." She laughed quietly to herself, remembering. "He used to know almost every mosque in Constantinople. He'd know who ruled the city at the time it was converted or commissioned. He said that each one had a part to play in the city's history and they deserved to be recognised for it." She shook her head, looking back to the waters again. "I think I will always miss him. I never thought I would be able to come back here again. I don't think I could have alone."

Lori reached out and took her hands that were beginning to fidget awkwardly on the table. "You're not alone any more."

They were still holding hands when the waiter returned with their food. They ate their meze of Zeytinyagh Enginar served with Raki, which Kay called Loin's Milk, a clear anise-flavoured drink. The main course of Bamya Bastisi was served with a fine Turkish wine and they finished with a desert of Firinda Sutlac. They mostly talked of books and history, of home and London, trying to avoid casting a shadow over the evening by drifting onto the subject of why they were in Constantinople.

On the towpath below, people moved from one stall to the next, idly passing the evening by. All but one who saw everything that was happening on the terrace above.

They finished shortly after the sun had fallen below the rooftops behind them, where the Galata tower rose high into the dark blue sky. Strands of thin cloud were being woven by gentle winds and the edges were glowing with a golden hue. What shadows were left were stretched to their full length awaiting their release into the night where they would dance to the flickering flames of oil lamps and candlelight. A new city was being born.

They left the restaurant to join the rest of the crowds along the waterfront towpath. Rich couples strolled arm in arm with wooden canes and white umbrellas trimmed with frills. Some had aides to deal with any beggars who would approach them, on occasion handing out small coins but mostly beating them back to whatever corner they had come from.

They walked some distance before passing the last of the street traders and coming upon a much quieter part of the towpath. The sky had turned a brilliant red where the clouds had gathered to soak up the remnants of the fallen sun. The sunset bathed the Asian side in its red glow while the skyline of the European side was silhouetted against the red sky and it appeared as if the pointed tops of minarets had pierced the clouds so that they bled.

They paused at a low railing to look out over the calm waters of the Bosphorus and take in the fantastic view of the city descending into night. Ship horns sounded as they approached their ports or simply passed through the channel on their way from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. With the city in shadow, Lori could almost picture the cannons firing from atop the city walls to sink a Turkish trireme and her mind could see the hundred and fifty ores of a Venetian Merchant Galley working in unison to the time of a single drum to guide it to the calm waters of the Golden Horn.

Lori turned to see the taller woman looking out across the water to where lights in the buildings on the Asian side of the city were beginning to wink into view. Despite what she said, and even in the half-light that now surrounded them, Lori could see wonder in Kay's face. Perhaps she knew what lay hidden behind it all and of the secrets it kept but whatever innocent fascination she once had for the world around her was returning, or maybe she never lost it at all. That Kay never died, she thought. She just lost her way for a while.

"You know, we're not far from where one of the great battle between the Christian galleys and the Turkish battleships took place," Kay said, looking further up the Bosphorus.

Lori looked to where her gaze fell. "Hundreds of Turkish ships battling with just three Genoese galleys and an Imperial transport. It must have been amazing. They say that anyone who wasn't engaged in the defence of the walls flocked to the slopes of the Acropolis or climbed to the top of the Hippodrome ruins just to watch it."

Lori could see the battle in the night air before her. The Turkish cannons firing in vain at the tall Christian ships, lacking the elevation to reach their decks. The rain of arrows and Greek fire that fell from the galley's high poops and prows onto the Sultan's finest soldiers. The chaos as ores of fustae entangled with ores of parandaria and Sultan Mehmet II shouting orders from atop his horse that he rode out into the shallows of the battleground. She could almost reach out and touch the water where waves of history lapped at the walls of the towpath beneath her.

As daylight took leave of the city, the small lighthouse on an islet just offshore from Uskudar came to life. "Leander's Tower," Lori said enthusiastically, directing Kay to the periodic flash of the tower's light. "How romantic."

"Romantic?" Kay said, curiously.

"Don't you know the story of how it got its name?" Lori asked, looking up to her.

Kay found herself leaning closer to the blond woman. "No, but I get the feeling you're going to tell me."

"Well," she began, enthused to be telling Kay about something she didn't know. "According to Greek myth, Leander was a young man from the town of Abydos on the Asian side of Hellespont. He was in love with the maiden Hero, a priestess of Venus who lived in the town of Sestos on the opposite shore. They were deeply in love with one another and each night Leander swam across the strait to be with his beloved, using the torchlight that Hero placed in a tower to guide him across the dangerous waters. One night, however, a tempest caused the waters to churn so badly that his strength failed and he drowned. His body was carried to the European shore where Hero learned of his death. Grief-stricken, she cast herself off the tower into the sea...and perished." She trailed off her tale with a dramatic pause.

"So they're both dead. How is that romantic?" Kay teased.

Lori nudged her with her shoulder. "They died for love. Of course it's romantic."

"I wouldn't be foolish enough to swim a strait in the middle of a storm for anyone," Kay continued teasing with a grin.

"Haven't you ever been in Love?"

The question was only half-serious and Kay knew she could have played off it again, but she didn't. "No, I don't think I have. There was this tracer who worked with us on a couple of expeditions a long time ago and I think he was in love with me. We were only young then and I used to tease him all the time. He eventually found another girl and I never heard from him again.

"I never really thought about love that much. There was my father and there was me. There was no room for anyone else. There never had been and I never though there would be. When he died I entered a world where love was a disease that had been eradicated for centuries and since I left that part of my life behind me, I've been too busy trying to piece a new life together, until now."

The last two words caught Lori's attention, but she tried not to show it.

Kay continued, after a pause. "Suddenly I find myself standing here looking out over the waters of a beautiful city and finding peace again."

They were comfortable leaning into each other now, feeling each other's warmth and moving ever closer so that they could speak in hushed tones. "It wasn't that long ago we were leaning on a railing together looking out across the water." Lori said, thinking back. "Things have changed a lot since then."

"Maybe more than you know," Kay added, her voice giving away the true meaning of the statement.

Lori hesitated for a moment, but then gambled on her instincts. "Maybe not." She put her arm gently around Kay so that she could move even closer and her heart paused for a moment before beating again, deciding that if Kay pulled away it would be better to stop beating altogether. Kay didn't, and it beat again as if her soul had taken its first breath of new life. Each beat brought her closer until she was sure Kay could hear it.

Kay couldn't hear it above her own. Lori's delicate touch filled her with a wave of emotions that threatened to bring tears to her eyes. For the first time in longer than she cared to remember, she felt as if every wrong she had ever done had been forgiven and someone wanted to be close to her again. She felt ready to let someone get close to her again, but not just anyone. There was only one person who could evoke such tender emotions in Kay with a single touch or a gentle smile and she was so close now that she was powerless to stop herself from reaching out and touching her.

Lori felt Kay's hand brush her cheek before she saw it. Time was playing tricks on her. It slowed and then stopped as Kay's eyes looked into hers, opening her heart and soul to Lori in a single moment that lasted forever. They revealed everything, her strength, her pain, her hopes and dreams and the fear that they would never be realised. She thought she saw herself in those dreams but they were just eyes again, growing larger as they drew her closer.

Kay saw the light in Lori's eyes with its source somewhere deep within her innocence. It was the same light that she had seen burn when they first met and she realised that she had been swimming toward it all along. With each day that passed, she had battled with the tempest and she was so close now she could feel Lori's breath on her lips, sweet, life-giving breath that she needed to survive.

With one final stroke she reached the shore and stepped from the dark waters that had held her for so long. Their lips met and the light disappeared behind closed eyelids, no longer required to guide Kay to the arms of her Hero. A new light burned and it grew more intense with each passing moment. They held each other close and moved in slow, unrehearsed movements, as if discovering true love for the first time and realising that there is nothing you can do to control it. Just surrender. And they did, into each others arms where everything they had ever longed for could be found.

Lori thought she was crying, but she didn't really know. She wasn't thinking any more, just feeling, and those feelings left no room for anything else. They filled her to overflowing and still they kept coming, another volley every time their lips parted and met again, another wave as Kay drew long fingers through her hair, a shiver as hands slowly tightened on her back and a warm body pressed against hers in a gentle embrace. The world around them was forgotten, left to continue with the normal passage of time. But it didn't. It paused to gaze upon the couple standing at its heart for it would never find such a befitting definition of beauty.

It was the completion of a journey that began with their first breath and ended with a kiss. A life long search that all souls make, some finding their way, others loosing it in a maze of life's twisting paths. Now, at journey's end, they stood on the shores where battles were fought and love was lost and they gave the waters another story to tell.

Love? What meaning has the word for me now? All souls know love unless they are trapped in a world where pain drives the will. Mine is in such a place and now I only desire. I desire release. I desire freedom. I desire peace from those who command me but I do as they bid for it brings more pain to disobey. I continue south to where my desires will be fulfilled. That is their promise to me.

Lori slowly drew her eyes open. They were heavy and slow to focus but they eventually brought into view the soft skin of a neck and the dark hair that fell over it. A pulse danced slowly beneath the surface and the sweet smell of perfume still lingered. She was nestled within Kay's arms and an almost paralysing sense of affection rushed through her. It felt so warm and safe that she didn't want to move. She just wanted the moment to last and the feeling to stay with her forever.

Kay stirred and gradually came awake with a slow stretch. Lori moved away. "Good morning," she said, looking up into the sleepy blue eyes.

"Good morning," Kay replied, and ran her hand gently down the side of Lori's face and onto her shoulder. Her gentle touch brought a smile to Lori's face and she reached up for a reassuring kiss. "I love you, Lori."

The words almost caught her by surprise but Lori was close enough to feel their warmth on her lips and she returned them with genuine emotion. "I love you too, Kay."

They lay in each other's arms for a long while, not speaking, just cherishing the moment. Fingers played with long hair and made small, tingling circles on sensitive skin. Lori thought that she had never before felt like she did now. Safe. Protected. Loved. There were countless ways to describe it but none had the ability to convey how she really felt inside. Nobody had ever come close to granting her such happiness. She hoped that she was doing enough to return the same.

Lori was first to break the peaceful silence. "As much as I'd love to stay here forever, shouldn't we be making our way to the library now?" The words sounded strange coming from her mouth but she knew in her heart that they were right.

Kay stirred in her arms and slowly drew herself back from the embrace. "No. I think we should take the day off and enjoy ourselves."

There was a serious tone to her words but Lori knew she was playing. She got out of bed and took Kay with her by the hand. She reached up and hung her arms over Kay's shoulders and brought her close.

Between soft kisses, Kay managed to get a sentence out. "What I wouldn't give for us to be in this city under different circumstances."

"It's alright," Lori replied. "There are things we have to do."

Kay kissed Lori on the lips one last time. "I'll be back as soon as I get freshened up." She slowly backed away and then turned towards the door and left Lori with her racing thoughts.

A large mirror, beautifully framed in carved wood, hung at the far side of the room and Lori stood in front of it looking at herself for a few silent moments. She looked at the innocent face that stared back. Just when she thought that she was beginning to cope with all that had happened since she left London, this happens. She wanted it more than anything but she couldn't keep down the fear that tagged along with the happiness. She couldn't begin to sort though the complications that it brought but she smiled in spite of herself. She wondered if Kay was in her own room thinking the same thoughts.

As she turned to choose a set of clothes to wear, something caught here eye. There was something strange about the bed that she was seeing in the reflection. She turned to look at the unmade bed behind her and then again at the reflection in the mirror. It was different. She turned a second time to study the lay of the tossed sheets and returned to the reflection where they were virtually untouched. She moved a step closer and looked from side to side in the reflection to ensure that she was seeing things from the correct angle. The room was as she expected, all but the bed.

Then she noticed the thin line of smoke rising from the bedside table. It was coming from incense sticks that formed a shape on the table and the glowing tips sent the stream of smoke into the air. She took a sharp breath as the next discrepancy hit her senses. The bed was not empty. A slender form lay beneath the sheets and it briefly stirred to reveal a young face and a head of blonde hair. It was her own.

She began to back away from the mirror. Frantically, she looked to the bed and back to the reflection several times. There was nothing in the bed behind her. She was sure of it. The reflection moved again and an arm reached out from beneath the sheets to pull them up around the shoulder of the body in the bed, her body in the bed. What was she seeing? It could not be real.

The door opened and Kay entered. Lori was wide-eyed and pale. "Kay, there's something wrong," she managed to say in a faint voice.

"What is it?" Kay asked coming up to Lori and taking hold of her by the shoulders to get a good look at here distant eyes.

"The mirror." She turned and pointed to the framed mirror on the wall, keeping her eyes averted from it as if it hurt to look into it. "It's showing me something..."

Kay looked up at the mirror and then back to Lori who was beginning to weaken. "What is it showing you, Lori?"

"In the bed." She struggled with the words and her breathing was becoming short and sharp. "Look at the bed."

Kay walked to the mirror and looked. "I only see a reflection, Lori."

"But..." Lori turned towards the mirror but came to a stop as her blood ran cold with the sight of Kay's reflection. Something that appeared to be Kay stood in the room but the mirror revealed otherwise. A burned human shape stood in its place with a face and mouth that imitated the movements of Kay's. It was a sight that Lori had seen before. As Kay looked at her, the reflection was looking away and the angle allowed her to see the side of its other hidden face.

"Just like a dream is a reflection of reality, Lori, so too is reality a reflection of a dream." Its voice slowly broke down to the dual tone male and female rasp that haunted the silence of Lori's thoughts. "This is what We have created for you, Lori. Do you like it?"

She did not respond. As it stepped closer, pieces of Kay started to fall away like the hard shell of an egg to reveal the image that was present in the reflection. Finally her face broke apart like the porcelain head of a French doll. "Is this not your dream, Lori?" the voices said as it stepped closer, wet eyes mocking her. "Have We not given you what you desire?"

It was standing before her now and its hand took a tight hold on the back of her neck and directed her to the mirror where the body in the bed stirred as if from a bad dream. Its head twisted so that the female voice spoke in her ear. "Look at your reality, Lori. You lay alone in a lonely world. You wish for love in a place where wishes are as insignificant as the thoughts that carry them. But when you dream... Oh, Lori, when you dream your wishes are only the beginning."

It reached down and picked up a piece of the shell that had covered it in Kay's appearance. It was a part of her face containing some of her forehead, an eye, a cheek, and half of her mouth. It turned it towards Lori. "Look at what you can dream."

The eye opened and the remains of the mouth began to move mechanically as if it didn't matter that it wasn't whole. The blue eye looked directly at her and it spoke with Kay's voice. "I love you, Lori."

It held the broken shell in its twisted fingers for a moment longer. "Your dream." It opened its fingers and let it fall to the floor where it smashed into small pieces.

"NO!" Lori screamed as she felt her heart torn from her chest and shatter also. When did it start? She fought with the overwhelming emotions of fear and loss to try to think rationally. When did the dream begin? She looked at the mirror to where she stirred awkwardly in the bed. The mirror was the link back to reality but was the door open or closed?

"What do you do, Lori? Live your dream or live your reality?"

She looked at it defiantly, knowing where she wanted to be, and it somehow didn't seem as frightening anymore. "I want to live where the Kay I love lives."

"Even if that means denying yourself the love you could have known here?"

"That wasn't love." She said the words, holding back tears and fighting down the wish that she had never looked into the mirror. It saved her and destroyed her at once. She wanted to believe that she wanted to be saved but a thought flashed through her mind. What's wrong with living your dream?

She missed the remnants of a grin cross the creatures face.

It only lasted an instant but it left a frightening trail through her mind. She had to leave before it was too late and what she did next was down to simple instinct. She picked up the chair that stood at the dresser and with all her strength she threw it at the mirror on the wall. It spun through the air and crashed into the glass but she couldn't have foreseen what effect that would have. Not only did the mirror shatter but the entire wall of the room shattered into a thousand pieces as if made of glass. It floated away to reveal a backdrop of black empty space. Darkness lay without, devoid of any physical objects save the dresser chair that continued spinning into the distance.

"Dreams are such fragile things." As its voices spoke, the ceiling of the room shattered in a similar fashion and drifted away above her in countless pieces. "But what lays beyond a dream, Lori? Where do dreams exist?" Another wall of the room exploded with the sound of crashing glass and drifted away from Lori. The darkness was all around her but light still existed in what was left of the room.

"The mind does not contain dreams, Lori. It simply brings those who seek them to where they exist." The third wall of the room shattered and the sharp pointed shards tumbled away into the distance.

"This is Our domain and all those who dream are welcome here. We call those who hear Our whispers and those who take heed of Our words. We nurture those who bring pieces of Our teachings to their reality." The last wall of the room burst apart and again the pieces floated away until they dissolved into the blackness. They were left standing on a platform somewhere in infinity. There was nothing above or below. No stars, no ground, no lights, nothing. Darkness everywhere.

"Know, Lori, that reality is as fragile as a dream. It too will shatter before your eyes and you will know what lies beyond it. You will see where reality exists. You will understand the confines that have held you and realise the expanse of the universe to which you belong. On that day you will pray to dream. You will wish like never before and seek out this place where your wishes took shape. On that day you will call Our name."

With those words, the floor beneath her feet shattered and the pieces drifted around her as she floated within the nothingness. Du'drosmos was gone. She quickly lost any sense of orientation as the pieces disappeared from view and she was left completely alone. Emptiness. Silence. Nothing.

After a time, she thought she was experiencing the sensation of falling but realised that she could not rely on her senses in this sensory deprived existence. She could move freely but no movement appeared to reveal anything about the physics of this void. She could make sound but there was no echo and no response. She could see herself but there was no light source. There were no shadows on her body so the light had no direction either. There was air for her to breathe but there was no movement to create wind. Nothing existed, except Lori.

Then the mirror existed. It stood before her, out of reach and teasing her with the picture of the room. She saw herself in bed, sleeping beneath the covers to the gentle aroma of the Jasmine incense. Kay was there also. She was standing in the room performing a Tai Chi pattern with slow movements. Everything looked calm and peaceful. Everything was as it should be. Lori wanted to be there again.

A crack suddenly split the picture in the mirror. Then another. The sound of scraping glass gave way to more cracks until the picture was completely distorted. Then the entire mirror shattered and it fell into itself leaving a gaping hole within the frame. It began to draw Lori towards it. She tried to resist at first but it was no use. She fell head first through the frame and tumbled head over heals through the darkness until...

Lori took a sharp breath and awoke with a start. Her eyes shot open and for an instant she thought she was paralysed, but her motor skills returned and she frantically threw off the bed covers, unaware of where she was. Then she spotted Kay. She was standing in the middle of the room in a strange position, one arm extended in front, palm facing out, the other arm extended behind with her fingers held together to make a downward facing point.

"It was in my dreams again," Lori said in a panicked voice. "I thought you said..."

"No, it wasn't in your dreams," Kay said, returning slowly to a finishing position. "Not like before. You were just dreaming about it. I can stop its invasion of your dreams but it would be dangerous for me to stop you creating your own dreams."

"No, Kay. It was in my dreams. I know it." Lori was getting more on edge with each word.

Kay sat beside her on the bed and put an arm around her shoulders. "Tell me what happened in your dream."

Lori paused, trying to think. "I can't remember. I just know it was there. It was in my dream."

Kay drew her close. "Ssshhh... Lori, you're safe now. It was just a dream like any other. There's nothing to worry about."

"I don't know, Kay. It seemed real." Lori looked up at her with frightened eyes. "Are you sure."

"I'm positive," Kay reassured her with a smile.

Gnarled fingers scratch at my face so that I see the sunrise through blood filled eyes. The light of a new day smothers and chokes my senses of old but my new-found senses remain unhindered and I rely on them more as each day passes. They do not lie to me. They do not hide the truths or cover reality with layer upon layer of sweetness and light. They are open and raw and show to me the darkness that hides within all things, the darkness that is waiting for a time that is fast approaching.

Lori got up and looked around the room. It looked so much better in the daylight and without the hindrance of fatigue to dull its splendour. It was even bigger and more luxurious than the one she had in Rome. Everything was so clean and new. It was very modern, very European, but still had the hints of Turkish culture as a charming reminder of where they were.

She turned to Kay. "Remember you said you'd show me how to do some of those moves sometime. You said it would help me protect myself. Can you show me now?"

"Yes. Why not?" Kay said after a moments thought and led Lori to the centre of the floor. "It's going to take a long time to learn enough for it to be of any real use to you but there's no harm in making a start. Just don't expect anything to happen too quickly."

"I...won't," Lori said, her mind starting to drift somewhere else.

"You're going to have to explore a lot of different mediation techniques before you'll gain sufficient control of your mind. We can start off with some Qui Gong and then move on to...."

"Tai Chi," Lori interrupted.

"Yes, a Tai Chi form," Kay continued. "Are you alright?" she said, responding to the look on Lori's face.

"I don't know. I think I remember us doing this before."

"You mean déjà vu?"

"It's not just déjà vu. I remember the move you are going to show me first." She extended both hands in front of her and raised and lowered them slowly, bending her knees to follow the motion of her arms. "This is it, right?"

"Yes, it is. But it's a basic move so you've probably seen me doing it. Look, let me take you through a few movements."

Lori nodded, confused but willing to try it in the hope that it would help ease her clouded mind. There were other memories there but they were evading her and she didn't have the will power to expose them.

Kay stood beside her. "Follow what I do." She repeated the movement that Lori had performed previously. "Breath in as you lift up and out as you drop down. Imagine you are lifting your arms through water. Let it flow around them, delaying their ascent and softening their descent. Your whole body is relaxed, no more tension than that which you need to move."

Lori followed the movements, not quite as gracefully as Kay but as close as any beginner could. "How am I doing?" Lori asked after a few repetitions, almost as if she felt obliged to.

"It's a start," Kay said, stopping. "You're still too stiff though. Your arms are too rigid. Everything is tense."

"Relax more," Lori said to herself and repeated the movement a few more times. "Any better?"

Kay moved around her, placing her hands on her shoulders and feeling along her neck and back muscles. "See how tense you are. It's like your muscles are made of wire. You have to relax..."

An image flashed through Lori's mind and she pulled away from Kay, quickly turning to face her. "The Hamam. The Turkish baths. Kay, you brought us there. We..." Lori trailed off, not really knowing what she was talking about and realising that she wasn't making any sense to Kay either. It was a strange sort of memory, more vivid than a dream but too vague to be real.

Kay was looking concerned. "Why don't I go and get dressed. Then we can get some breakfast and take a walk. That should help you feel better."

"Ok," Lori nodded, only half-aware of what Kay had said.

Everything fell silent when the door closed. The room was still and Lori was left with the eerie feeling that she was the only person alive. She had to go to the window and look outside to reassure herself that she wasn't. City life passed by beneath her, unaware of the eyes watching it from above and unaware of the confusion that lay behind them.

She washed and dressed quickly, awaiting Kay's return. A large mirror, beautifully framed in carved wood, hung at the far side of the room and she stood in front of it looking at herself for a few silent moments. She looked at the innocent face that stared back. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

In a mental flash of light, another image ripped through her thoughts and she opened her eyes and gasped in shock. It just lasted an instant and she couldn't remember what it was but it frightened her. It was something about the mirror. She found herself breathing heavily and her shoulders were so tense that her neck was beginning to hurt. Relax, she though to herself, remembering Kay telling her that all this tension was unhealthy. Suddenly she remembered that Kay didn't tell her. It was one of those memories.

She slowly backed away from the mirror. She turned to look at the bed behind her and then back at the mirror. There was nothing wrong with the reflection but she somehow had the feeling that there should be. It's just a mirror, she thought to herself. Calm down. She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath, relaxing her shoulders and slowing her heart rate.

Another flash of light brought more images and this time they stayed. The mirror was in them. It hurt her somehow. She struggled to remember but she couldn't. It haunted her mind and it frightened her to be in its presence but the rational part of her mind kept telling her that it was just a mirror. She felt a cold sweat form on her forehead and she just stared at the mirror, daring it to do something to confirm her fears.

She jumped as the door opened and Kay entered. Lori was wide-eyed and pale. "Kay, there's something wrong," she managed to say in a faint voice.

"What is it?" Kay asked coming up to Lori and taking hold of her by the shoulders to get a good look at here distant eyes.

"The mirror." She turned and pointed to the framed mirror on the wall, keeping her eyes averted from it as if it hurt to look into it. "It's showing me something..."

Kay looked up at the mirror and then back to Lori who was beginning to weaken. "What is it showing you, Lori?"

"In the bed." She struggled with the words and her breathing was becoming short and sharp. "Look at the bed."

Kay walked to the mirror and looked. "I only see a reflection, Lori."

"But..." Lori turned towards Kay where she stood by the mirror, looking back at her with confusion and concern in her eyes. She was right. There was only a reflection. Lori couldn't remember what she thought she saw? I didn't see anything, did I? What's happening to me?

"Come on, Lori. Let's go and get some breakfast," Kay said walking towards the door and reaching for Lori's arm as she passed her. Lori pulled away.

"No, Kay. Something is happening here. I don't know what it is but you have to believe me."

Kay stopped and looked at her as if trying to decide how best to react to the situation. "Nothing is happening Lori", she said softly. "You had a bad dream. That's all. You need to get something to eat and some fresh air. You'll be fine."

Lori shook her head. "It wasn't just a dream. I know that now. Whatever it was has left me with memories that are more real than any dream I've ever had before. They're more like..." and the realisation hit her, "...the dream on the train. They're like the memories I have of the dream on the train, just more broken and disjointed."

"Lori, I can assure you that Du'drosmos did not enter your dreams last night."

"What if I'm still dreaming?" Lori wasn't sure where the question came from but there it was, out in the open, and she had no answer for it.

"Do you want me to pinch you?" Kay asked with a smile.

"Kay, I'm not...joking..." She trailed off, suddenly aware of what it might mean if she was correct. She took a step away from Kay.

"Do you feel like you're dreaming?"

"It..." She took a cautious breath. "It didn't feel like I was dreaming when it happened on the train from Rome. That's the whole point, isn't it?"

Kay didn't appear to have picked up on what Lori was thinking, or she kept it well hidden if she did. Lori was looking around the room as if she was in a dizzy state, turning on the spot, looking at the ceiling, the floor, searching for anything that would give up the room's secret. Her frustration was building and it was beginning to show.

"Lori, you're overreacting. Let me help you." Kay cautiously started to approach Lori again.

Lori turned to Kay, her face a warning for her to stay back. "I am not overreacting. I am trapped in a dream. You promised me this wouldn't happen again."

"You're right. I promised to protect you and I have. Lori, you're not dreaming and I don't know what I can do or say to prove that to you. You just have to trust me."

Lori looked at Kay for a long time, wishing with all her heart that she could believe her and wanting, more than anything, for this to be the biggest mistake she had ever made in her life. But she couldn't. She slowly shook her head as real tears wetted her cheeks. She saw Kay in front of her, someone she had come to trust with her life, but something inside her wouldn't let her do it this time. "I can't." She closed her eyes for a moment, praying that whatever was stopping her from trusting Kay was working for her, not against her.

Kay spoke. "If you believe so much that you are dreaming then you'll have to find a way to wake yourself."

"I'll find a way," she said, but she was finding it more difficult to think as suspicion and confusion took a tighter hold. Her eyes fell on the bed, the window, the dressing table, the mirror... An unconventional solution came, not through reasoning but of its own will and the conviction to carry it out came with it. It was one of the memories that had found its way out of the cogitative fog in which they had been lost. She didn't know what it meant or what the result would be but she believed it and hesitated only for a moment. "Stand back," she said.

She walked to the dresser and picked up the chair. "Lori, what are you doing?" Kay asked hurriedly but it was too late. With all of Lori's effort, the chair tumbled through the air and crashed into the mirror. It shattered into a thousand pieces but the didn't float. They fell. They fell to the floor and then everything went silent. The frame hung on the wall for a moment longer, swinging precariously, and then it fell to the shimmering floor also.

Lori stared at the remains of the mirror. That wasn't supposed to happen. "That wasn't supposed to happen," she whispered.

Kay was looking at her. "Lori, I..."

"That wasn't supposed to happen."

"Lori, it's alright. It's my fault. I should have known how hard all this has been on you." She walked towards Lori and opened her arms to hug her but Lori stepped away. "Lori, it's alright."

Kay took another step closer and Lori took another away. "It's not alright." She was beginning to sob now and she held her head in her hands as if she was trying to relieve some intense headache. She looked to the ceiling and with a sudden outburst she shouted. "KAY! What's happening?"

"I don't..."

"I wasn't talking to you," she snapped. For an instant her eyes were fierce but she suddenly realised who she was looking at and they filled with tears as she broke down again. "If you are Kay then I'm sorry but I have to go. I need time to think about this." She walked to the door. "Don't try to follow me."

Kay just looked at her.

"Tell me you won't try to follow me."

She didn't answer immediately but she eventually gave in. "I won't follow you."

Lori turned and left without looking back. When the door closed, Kay slumped onto the edge of the bed and let her head fall into her hands. After a moment her body began to shake. She could have been crying...or laughing.

To be continued...