The stream chattered on its stony bed then sweeping right fell foaming in a bubbling cascade. Suddenly Galadriel recognised where she was. She made her way down the short flight of steps and emerged into the garden. Across the green sward stood the Mirror. Her Mirror. Sunlight danced upon its rim.
She carried water from the crystal stream and carefully filled the bowl to overflowing. Now that she had come to the test she felt uncertain. This might be her Mirror but it had been a long time since she had dared its wild magic. Setting the ewer beside her on the grass Galadriel steadied herself and looked down into the Mirror.
For a time she could see nothing but her own reflection. The brilliance of her rings had dimmed as she entered the Garden but now she became aware of their energy pulsing around and throughout her body. A raw whining power focused itself upon her; a spinning wall that separated her and the Mirror from the Garden outside.
To her horror Galadriel found she could not tear her eyes away from the water's surface and felt herself being drawn down into the obsidian depths. Then the noise and the terror subsided as the energy of the rings and the Mirror became aligned. The vortex was still there but it steadied and she could move her gaze where she would.
The Mirror was hers to command.
Galadriel stared into the Mirror until her eyes ached but its glassy surface revealed nothing. Reflected nothing but its own inner blackness. Around her the vortex pulsed.
This wasn't how it was supposed to be.
Galadriel was barely aware of the Garden about her, its tones muted by the swirling, liquid air. But sunlight spilt through, daubing her dress with dancing rainbow hues. Colour sparked and danced upon the rim of the silver bowl before her. And deep within Galadriel a memory stirred. She gasped at its sudden poignancy, strove to catch it, hold it close.
The ground seemed to sway beneath her feet and she grasped at the Mirror's branching pedestal for support. As if in answer to the emotion pulsing within her the vortex thrummed wildly and the surface of the Mirror stirred in little waves that caught the play of splintered sunlight.
Galadriel held her breath ... only releasing it as the water stilled once more. Before her now she could see her own face but this was no simple reflection for in the glass her eyes were closed. Then the waters shook: the vision shifted again. She seemed still to be looking at the same woman, but now from such a distance that she was little more than a mannequin: a tiny figure in a sea of trees.
Yet the image was so bright and clear that Galadriel could follow every movement as the figure gracefully raised both her arms in an attitude of - what? Exultation? Self-realisation? Surely this was herself - Alison-Galadriel - as she had first awoken into the Garden.
And then from the Mirror - perhaps from the woman's outstretched hand - there burst a flash of light, a coruscation of colours that seared all thought from her mind. And within her surged a power that she realised at last was the source of that light and all else that had been achieved in the Garden since the beginning. A power that the Rings enabled, channeled, but did not themselves contain.
Galadriel focused the energy and took back control of the Mirror. She shifted its perspective towards and into the woman in the forest. Everything went dark as the two became one. Then she opened her eyes ...
For several moments nothing made sense. A confusion of liquid shade and light. Gradually the image resolved itself into a face. A face pale and huge, its features twisted into a hideous leering mask. Her concentration broke and for a moment she was poised giddily between Inside the Mirror and Outside. With a concerted effort she regained control but by the time she did so the image had shifted again.
About her yellow dunes extended endlessly to unseen horizons
She was in a place so unreal it could not possibly exist. Above her there stretched a wide, boiling sky. But nothing moved amongst the swirling thunderheads. The clouds were frozen, building towards a storm that would never break. About her yellow dunes extended endlessly to unseen horizons. The only objects in this barren world were an unlikely assortment of geometric forms.
A large wooden sphere that hovered an inch or two above the sand. An onyx pyramid. A block of green marble six feet by four by three. Upon this unlikely bed (or was it an altar?) Galadriel lay, naked and outstretched, beneath the tortured sky. She did not appear to be tethered in any way, yet she was unable to move beyond turning her head a little to either side.
Then her legs parted and her right hand slipped between them. The body - her body - began responding to the lascivious caress. Her back arched and she reached with her other hand to squeeze at her breasts.
Galadriel had needs and passions, desires that ran both strong and deep. But the mind that controlled these actions was not her own. She recognised nothing of herself in the obscene charade this body was enacting. This was a man's fantasy, played out for a man's pleasure. She was being watched. And though she could not see him, she knew at last that this was Martin's work. That she had been betrayed.
At precisely 3 am Martin Parish sat himself at Alison's computer and began the routine that would bring her back to the Real World. Not that he understood how any of it worked. By what magic did Alison disappear and reappear like that? Where was she when she went Inside - and inside what?
It made no sense to think of her inside the computer itself. Martin was hardly technical but he had seen inside when she was installing more memory. The box contained nothing magical, just the usual components. Electrical. Electronic. No magic whatsoever. Where was Alison, right now? Questions without the possibility of answers.
Before proceeding further Martin reran the diagnostics. Available memory was down again but still within limits. He noted the findings in the log book. It might be important. Next he rechecked Alison's position as she had shown him. The computer showed her standing beside the Mirror. She didn't seem to have moved in the past hour.
He hit the minus key and the view zoomed out. At this scale he couldn't see Alison as such but her location was indicated by a small red marker. The clearing in which she stood was surrounded by an ocean of trees through which narrow paths severally meandered. The Garden was the hub, the kernel, the seed-crystal about which the entire Realm had grown: day by day, hour by hour, as - somehow - Alison had extended its borders.
Martin saved the file to disk and exited the landscape application. The computer's desktop - dark green with its scarcity of essential icons - was always a shock after the intricate multicoloured geometries of the Garden itself. Alt-Escape. Shut-down. Confirm. It was done. As the computer wound itself down into silence and the screen blanked Martin knew Alison was already on her way back.
Back from where?
He glanced at his watch. He had maybe twenty minutes before she was fully back with him. Fully conscious.
The transition between the Garden and the "real world" usually caught her off-guard and she left the wonders of her realm reluctantly. This time, however, she was ready. With a violence that surprised her, a violence born equally of anger and disgust, Galadriel had broken free from the Mirror's pornographic entrapment.
She was calm now inside. Focused. When the summons came she closed her eyes and from inside her brought forth a vortex of power. Protection for the journey. Galadriel had work to do elsewhere.
The sensation was something like falling from an immense height with no surety that there was anything at the bottom to break your fall - or your neck, for that matter. A fall into nothingness - or perhaps a different reality.
Martin stood at the door to Alison's bedroom. Months of observing her return had not yet rendered the experience mundane. Far from it. On the computer he had learned to control the movements of his little mannequin but here he could watch the doll become flesh before his eyes and - in the minutes before she returned to full consciousness - Alison was open to his desire.
As her body began to materialise on the bed the sensation of falling subsided and the swirling vortex stilled about her. On previous occasions Alison had woken in her room with nothing but vague, dreamlike recollections of her activities Inside and nothing whatsoever of the transition itself. This time was different. Her memories had remained intact and her mind had been clear throughout the entire translation.
Thus it was that she saw the grinning, lust-wracked face again: this time bent close over her. Felt the trembling hands at her body as it lay there, naked and still not fully real. Lost in the assault, Martin did not notice the white fire burning at her finger. Nor the sullen pulse of liquid gold.
By the time she was fully in control of her body - fully Outside - Alison was alone in her room, a single sheet cast carefully across her nakedness. But she remembered everything. She lay there the remainder of the night. Her body craved sleep but it would not come. There was too much on her mind.
The memory of the Garden was still vividly with her: a thing both wonderful and terrifying. For it seemed to her that the memories belonged to someone else: someone she had not realised she was becoming. Someone she could put a name to, perhaps.
Then there was Martin. Could it possibly be true? Could she trust the images that burned in her mind? The face she - she? - had seen in the Mirror: was it Martin? And if so, might it not have been a creation of her own? A dream image? That was the trouble with visions - it was not always a good idea to take them too literally.
Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn from their path to prevent them.
But even if she could account for the pornographic vision to which she had been treated Inside the Garden, surely there could be no doubting the reality of Martin's assault upon her as she lay immobile on the bed. Aware of each groping touch yet unable to resist or to respond. Caught between worlds. That had really happened, hadn't it? Her head swam. She was no longer sure what "really" meant. She had to find out.
The Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds.
All morning Alison tried to busy herself analysing the data from her last visit Inside but she was impatient to be on her own. It was Saturday and Martin wasn't on duty. It was almost midday before he left to go shopping.
She found nothing amiss on her new computer, which seemed to deny the significance of seeing Martin sat at the PC. Then she thought to check her old machine. In the terrain application's default folder she found Martin's early attempts at landscape generation.
No surprise in that: Alison had herself instructed him in using the package. She had wanted him to understand something of what she had achieved. To gain some expertise with what was effectively - when she was Inside - her life support machine.
None of the files were very recent: the most recently edited file was called sandy. Intrigued, Alison opened the file. The application revealed a wire-frame desert, its rolling dunescape sparsely population with primitives. Innocent enough. She swung the camera into a likely position and selected a low-res preview shot.
Read the final part of the story ...