The dust whirled and spun, the wind howled. She pulled her coat tighter around her and pushed forward.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way!” he shouted. She spared a glance over her shoulder to see him trudging over the packed, shifting sand, black fedora still inexplicably in place.
“It’s right up ahead!” she shouted back. “Can’t you see it?”
The fortress loomed in front of them, thick walls of dark grey stone visible as a gloomy shadow through the gale. From the keep, the shape of a flag snapped in the wind, but she couldn’t make out the emblem.
When he didn’t reply, she glanced back again. His face was obscured, strands of dirty-blond hair whipping across his eyes, as he finally put a hand up to hold the hat.
And then they were through. The sound of the wind suddenly cut in half, upper frequencies blocked by the thick stone as they stumbled into a lowered entryway set a few steps into the ground. The lower tones sealed them in, though a very high whistle tunneled through the cracks and whispered of unrest.
“Nice place,” he commented, lowering his hand. She looked at him, trying to decide if he was joking, then put it aside. That wasn’t why she was here.
They emerged into a courtyard of ice.
She stopped, almost losing her balance at the top of the short staircase. Her gaze panned from left to right, startled by the cold elegance—and the sudden silence. Her breath collected in a pool of fog in front of her mouth before fading into the frozen ground.
She had been here before…but she had never seen it before. Not like this.
A small tinkling sound made her eyes dart to the left…but it was just a tiny tap. He had stepped up beside her, the tip of his boot on the edge of the ice. A shock ran through her, and her eyes moved up to the keep. The flag fluttered high above, already beginning to fade into the mist.
She could feel the warmth in the side corridors, knew she had been there before, and often. Without turning she could see the library and the laboratory, knowledge locked in humming machines stored alongside shelves of leather-bound books. She knew of the antechambers and atria decorated with names and faces and smiles.
She turned her head and met his gaze, but felt something blocking her vision. A leaden wall severing any connection.
No matter. She pivoted back and poised herself on the edge, then threw herself forwards—
—feet pounding and scrabbling across the ice, down the corridor—
“—remember what” we/you came here “for—”
—pushing through the sudden freezing cold, the needles—
“—I” can’t follow you
—and the darkness, trying to find—
This story was inspired by Lily (Minute after Midnight) posting a link about “memory palaces”, along with Vienna Teng’s “My Medea”, Inception, and a bit of Baten Kaitos Origins. Credit for the phrase “mental castles” also goes to Lily.
Edit: I realized the next day that the piece wasn’t done: “Mental Castles, Part II”.
Part of NaCreSoMo.