Deep breath in. Hold it. Deep breath out. Deep in. Deep out. Slow, deep breaths.
Forget the self and concentrate on nothing. Slowly the sounds are muted. The soft blue glow fades. There is silence and a uniform darkness. The self is lost, there is only the darkness and the silence.
Casandra remains sitting on the stone floor for a long while. Her legs are crossed and her hands rest on her knees in a lotus position. Eventually she begins to move. Slowly she raises herself to her feet. Walking steadily toward the start of the twisting maze of glowing blue light. She steps deliberately onto the pattern and walks slowly forward.
Sparks outline her feet as she continues along the illuminated path and a light current courses through her body. She continues walking as the way begins to curve back on itself. After a dozen paces it becomes a real effort to continue forward. Fiona had warned her of the First Veil.
Casandra's breathing becomes labored as she pushes forward with unwavering concentration. But the resistence grows and pushes back. Casandra redoubles her efforts and slowly moves forward. One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving forward, no matter how difficult the way becomes.
Casandra recalls the children laughing. Throwing things at her and her mother. They curse the soiled woman and bastard child. She does not understand what she has done. They are driven from the village to fend for themselves. Keep pushing forward. Tears running down her cheeks she forces her feet to move one after another.
Suddenly the resistence is gone and the way is easier. Casandra recalls modeling for Renoir. It was April 1875, and it was humiliating to be naked in front of this foreigner. But she had done much worse in order to survive, so she swallowed her pride and did what she needed to do. Like the other painters of his time he did not take female students. No matter the pay. Working as a model was her only chance to see the masters work. Many years later she managed to obtain one of the pictures he had painted of her, but "Torso" (Buste de Femme) had disappeared and she had been unable to acquire it.
A couple of years later she appeared as one of many in Le Moulin de la Galette. Her dance partner had to hold her nearly a foot off the ground. She acquired painting supplies and practiced on her own, mimicing the strokes of Renoir and Monet. After a dozen years of working on her techique she came across something totally new. The little dots Seurat used to create beautiful images. Dressed as a boy Casandra had spent almost two years learning from the Post-Impressionist master. She had watched him work and practiced diligently on her own.
In December 1891, Casandra picked up a copy of a Hiroshige wood-block print painted by Van Gogh. She greatly admired his work, although she missed actually meeting him, buying the painting several months after the painter's death. Upon her return to Japan in 1891, she spent many more years improving her technique.
Walking along this glowing trail, it was as if the universe used her as its palatte. Changing, reforming, modifying, striping bare and then repainting every intimate detail. Some balance within her was changed. She kept walking, reaching the end of an arc and coming to a straight stretch.
Once again the resistance began to grow. Casandra struggled against the pressure. It felt as if she were buried up to her neck in snow and trying to force her way forward. The sparks were up to her waist now and it took all of her effort and concentration to just keep pressing forward, even if she did not seem to actually move. She had reached the Second Veil.
Again a flood of memories crashed over her like winter waves, nearly knocking Casandra's breathe from her. She was running. They chased her down dark alleys and through the park. She was strong and fast, even at age 8. In fact, she was more than a match for any two of the teenaged boys. Unfortunately, there were more than two of them. When they were done with her they left her bruised and battered body in the bushes. She should have died, but she did not.
She learned to fight back in the ensuing months and years. Most of the time she could fight them off. But not always. Then one day it happened. She was cornered by four young toughs, with no possible exit. The tallest of the four swung at her, nearly breaking her jaw and sending her to the ground. She got back to her feet in a crouch and with all of her energy behind the blow she slammed him beneath the chin. The shocked expression on the youth's face as his neck snapped remained permenantly engrained in Casandra's mind, waking her up in a cold sweat for many years afterward. The other boys had fled, leaving their companion's corpse and Casandra's weeping figure in the alley.
The police had found her there, hours later, still crying. The police were little better than the street toughs. Eventually she managed to escape from them and moved on to another place. And so the cycle continued.
Bitter tears flowed freely down Casandra's cheeks as she remembered the horrors of her early childhood, if childhood it could be called. As she had done then, she fought back the feelings of rage, humiliation, and anger. She focused her energy and her will on forcing one foot in front of the other. The more resistence she encountered, the more fiercely determined she became to overcome any obstacle. After an eternity she broke through and the resistence faded.
Casandra is drenched in sweat and tears. Her whole body seems to vibrate like a jack-hammer and the sparks are up above her waist. But she has made it this far and it is clear that she is a true daughter of the Blood. Once again focused on controlling her breathing, she pushes forward.