There’s a funny thing in psychology—or maybe it’s more appropriate to say in reverse psychology—where trying to suppress a certain thought makes it stick in your mind longer, harder. Your brain can’t just turn off a thought, because keeping “don’t think Thing” in the background of your mind just primes your brain to bring Thing back to the foreground. The technical term for the phenomenon is ironic process theory, but it’s easier to summarize the concept with that age-old mind-game expression: Don’t think of a pink elephant.
Crisp sunlight shone in through the open window. Mountainous wind howled outside, energized by the warmth of dawn. I sat at my desk, pen in hand and blank first page of my new journal in front of me—my soon-to-be My Time on Era So Far, By Ash Kyriakides. I took an exhilarated breath as I placed the tip of the pen on the paper. It was the moment I had long been waiting for. Okay, let’s do this.
Virulesse was a dirty liar—basement or not, the interior of the castle of Stormwatcher’s Peak was gorgeous. From the moment we crossed the threshold of those bronze double doors, I was met with nonstop tableaus of rich, royal splendor.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. If you’ve never tried to walk up a mile-long staircase, especially one that’s zigzaggingly carved out of the side of a cliff, don’t. A mile of stairs is about 99% of a mile too many. Especially when the steps are made of solid, rigid stone—your legs will be dead long before you ever reach the end. Trust me, that panoramic selfie you want to take at the summit isn’t worth it. Skip the climb and just photoshop yourself onto a postcard from the gift shop.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option for me this time.
Over the next day and a half I had a hell of a lot of time to myself to think, so that’s exactly what I did. Brainstorming. Hypothesizing. Planning escape routes. Poring over every single thing I had seen and heard since waking up in Seriphen’s realm, in an attempt to figure out as many of the blanks in the Seven Sevens Sudoku as I could.
When I woke up, I had a seething headache and a bruise the size of a baby watermelon on the back of my head. Where was I? How did I get here? My brain was so full of fog that I could barely see. As my thoughts cleared and my vision unblurred, full consciousness returned to me, one languid synapse at a time.
As most other people ran away from the fiery explosion and the ensuing whirlwind of flaming debris, Bohriam ran headlong into it—the perfect picturesque caricature of a stupid superhero thinking only of rescuing others before himself. Or at least, that’s what I assumed was going through his pure naive heart. Maybe he had just completely lost his mind. And maybe I had too—because I was chasing after him.
I found myself sitting in fetal position, in front of a desk too small to be used, surrounded by children half my size, all of them screaming or laughing or pushing each other without care. A warm breeze blew through the outdoor classroom from over the nearby lake. It seemed only to energize the little demons.
At the head of the mob of youngsters, a middle-aged woman took a seat on the grass. “Good morning, class.”
I awoke to the sound of metal clattering against the floor, and a feminine voice whisper-shouting “SHIT!” Opening my eyes to far too much sunlight for this early in the morning, I saw a ceiling I didn’t know in a bedroom I didn’t recognize. Where the hell was I?