Tayel turns to run through the flowers. Danyel with a backward glance, follows him.
Christopher wishes he could chase after the twins, but the mist rises beneath his feet, swallowing the floating flowers, cutting him off from the way Danyel and Tayel have taken. There’s a bite and a sting to this haze.
Christopher closes his eyes and walks forward. He opens them, seeing a little green clearing with a stream trickling over rocks. A small green temple with a curved blue roof sits amidst the grass. Four golden dragons poke their snouths out of the four corners of the cerulean tiles. Small and silent, they spy out the land below.
Christopher presses his hand to his breast, feeling more than hearing Crowne hiss within.
Paul: (not that Christopher knows who he is, not yet) Calm yourself, little shadow. I have no intention of hurting you.
A young man sits, shapely calves curved in the lotus position, a position Christopher recalls in a memory flash he doesn’t remember. The young man’s curly russet hair reminds him of Peter, only it’s darker, less red, and curls of his ears and the nape of his neck, rather than falling to his shoulders.
The young man looks at him with soulful dark eyes which again make Christopher think of Peter. Only there’s a flash of gold in those eyes akin to the silver triangles which glitter within Tayel’s.
Christopher: Who are you?
Paul: (without looking at him, smiling without mirth) I’m certain Peter mentioned me at some point.
Christopher: (recalling Peter’s rare moments of seriousness when he mentioned the lover who left him) You’re not Paul?
Paul: Peter might question that, but I am. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, considering the reckless way he wandered off into the mists, only to seek shelter at the Navel of all places.
Christopher: Why wouldn’t he seek shelter with us? You broke his heart, didn’t you?
Paul: And you’ve stolen at least one of the fragments of that broken heart, haven’t you? For all I’ve tried to keep the pieces safe.
Christopher: Just how have you tried to keep any part of Peter safe?!
Paul: By breaking his heart rather than getting him involved in my dangerous existence. By sending him away. Only he’s willingly walked into greater peril than he would have faced at my side, I fear.
Christopher: If you feared this, you shouldn’t have sent Peter away. You should have protected Peter. Every part of him.
Paul: A far more difficult task than you realize, little shadow. Peter is drawn to dangerous objects of desire. Like me. Like you. Like the spider lady you once worshipped.
Christopher: You mean the Lady Duessa Ashelocke? I didn’t want Peter to go with her. I tried to warn him.
Paul: You needed to do more than warn him. If I had an arachnocrat in my Place of Power, I would not permit an arachnocrat to walk in. Let alone walk out with anything or anyone I deemed precious.
Christopher: The Navel isn’t that sort of Place of Power. Anyone can walk in if they need to.
Paul: You’re saying my Peter needed you?
Christopher: He needed the Navel. As for he knew, he wasn’t yours anymore.
Paul: He’ll always be mine. I can feel his pain, even from afar. His longing to be loved by everyone. (He wrinkles his nose.) An impossible thing to do unless he shatters himself into many pieces.
Christopher: (shivers) Impossible is possible in some places.
Paul: Yes, you’ve done is, haven’t you? This is why Peter is so drawn to you. You’re the embodiment of his wish.
Christopher: No, I’m not. No matter what he thinks.
Paul: So you say. So you draw away from Peter. Driving him to seek a Door to the Shadow Forest.
Christopher: That’s not my intention. The last thing I want is for Peter to be lost the way Damian was.
Paul: If you mean that, stop him. Is it too much to give him what he wants? To be who he needs you to be?
Christopher: I might ask you the same thing.
Paul: So that’s your answer, little shadow. (He smiles grimly.) Neither of us can give him what he wants. We have both failed him.
Christopher: Just because we’ve failed him doesn’t mean he has to fail himself.
Paul: Oh? You’re saying we cannot help him. Or we shouldn’t.
Christopher: I’m saying that Peter found the Navel. There’s a reason he came to Omphalos.
Paul: Or a reason he came to you.
Christopher: The same reason he came to you?
Paul: Don’t speak as if we’re alike, little shadow. One night I’ll come for you as I come for every monster.
Christopher: I thought you wouldn’t hurt me.
Paul: Here and now, no. Not during this conversation, but you are still a shadow. A creature that hungers for the memories, dreams, and desires of your victims. Just as I hunger for you and other predators.
Christopher: You sound like a monster yourself.
Paul: Perhaps it takes a monster to hunt other monsters. Peter, however, is not a monster.
Christopher: And yet he’s drawn to monsters if he’s drawn to both of us.
Paul: That makes him a fool and an innocent. It would be only too easy for you to hurt him. You will hurt him, little shadow, if you haven’t already.
Christopher: Haven’t you?
Paul turns his head to look at Christopher for the first time. For a long moment, they just gaze at each other.
Paul: Even monsters can care about their victims.
Christopher: Funny. I was just about to say the same thing.