Within the Gate, light is a living creature, a voracious appetite in a toothless maw. Behind the Doors, black occupants writhe throughout a pyrite effulgence, a fool's golden paradise of Truth, beauty, and damnation. Among the sinuous shadows, there sits a girl who does not add to the agitated whispers; she merely rests, dreams with open eyes, and wonders if this is the only womb she has ever known.


The word elicits images of soft lips, wavy auburn hair, tattered dresses stained with spilled porridge. She can almost imagine the scent of cooking...


A shiver corkscrews its way up her spine, and gangly limbs wrap around her bony chest. Around her the flotsam chortles, unperturbed by her discomfort. Here, all is one, one is all, but everything is also nothing. Like life, Truth is finite, fleeting. Light tapers into darkness; a hive of monstrosities flounder in a hell too bright to close one's eyes against.


The voice lingers in her mind like a wisp of smoke from a deceased fire. The tone is gentle, almost timid: sandstone and rust. A face accompanies the words: small eyes, a dust of whiskers, eyebrows perpetually arched into a surprised look, and receding, unremarkable brown hair. Mostly, though, she remembers the glasses and the way his mouth always turned downward in a kind of distressed look that she had never shared. The man's face overtakes the woman's; his lines become more clear, more real, but in her memories, laughter and a dog's loud bark sometimes push both faces aside.

Womb. Life. Mommy. Daddy...


Those terms mean something to her, even if she is not sure what. In the Gate, nothing is ever clear, and the killing light is so brilliant that she cannot close her eyes against it; she dreams in the light, against the light, in spite of the light and because of it. She is no longer certain if her body is real, if the syllables Nee Nuh are anything but sounds stumbled upon by careless tongues. The visions are a tangled nest, a jumble of broken pieces, a garden overrun with weeds, but that was her childhood, wasn't it? Tangles, broken toys, weeds, dirty clothes and dripping water from the leaky faucet. Can't afford to get it fixed, she hears the woman saying, hands covering her face as she struggles not to weep.

It is an old memory, dog-eared and shifting to alter slightly each time Nina dredges it forth. Sometimes the colour of the woman's dress alters in hue, and at times, there are flowers in the background; occasionally, there is a window, too, and sunlight...she remembers sunlight (so warm, not like the light freezes...I'm cold; so cold; Daddy, what happened?), the soft lemon glow which prefaced the Gate's penetrating glare. Nina does not understand. She never understood, never figured out the pain which had made her nerves feel like her mother's pin cushion. She cannot quite picture the dark man who spoke soothing words and sent her to this place. She knows only that he spoke of God...but Daddy said science is God, and alchemists are God's apostles...


The face from before is conjured, the man with a tremulous body and anxious eyes, the man who offered only a shaky little smile when wealth at last came to him.

("Everything is going to be all right, Nina dearest...just hold still...")

Dark forms convolve, then scatter; some flit away, others throw themselves forward with eager howls. Nina rises to see what is amiss. Looking down at her sable hands, a secret part of herself is forced to acknowledge that she is no different from the others, but she does not fathom why; her mind tells her she is Nina Tucker, dearest Nina, darling Nina, precious little girl with pigtails and a smile that sluices its recipients with affability.


The Gate is opening.


She cannot remember her first birth, cannot recall the horror of being pushed out of warmth and darkness into coldness and light...but she already knows her second birth will be an inversion of human birth, a reversal of what is natural. Beyond the Gate, she sees darkness, feels heat, smells—


—alchemy...that burnt chemical odor of her father's basement. Tendrils seize what remains of the girl, and she can only close her eyes in anticipation, blocking out her senses as she leaves one hell in favour of another. Alchemists are God's apostles, converting the heathens gathered round frozen Cocytus, turning ice to water and air to fire, but no mystical science can prevent their own bodies and aspirations from sinking into the barren earth.


Second birth, second death. The frigid brightness is gone, relieving her strained optical nerves; she would close her eyes if she could...

...if she only had eyelids. Instead, she can do nothing but obey the capricious whims of this newest prison as she succumbs to the same pain she met before—the misery of cells split apart and strung together into some confusing hodgepodge, some artless collage, some mockery of form.


An unwieldy shape ambles out of the stygian world. Shaggy arms paw at her, and even with her unadjusted vision, she can see blood coursing down the body. It pools on the ground, covering what is left of his feet, but he does not seem to notice. He holds her, himself dying and long ago dead, while Nina is dead, alive, newly born and dying while not living. Here, death winks at life, reminding it who is master.

"Oh, Nina, I've missed you so...but we're finally going to be a family again. Don't you see, Nina darling? I did it..."

Uh-huh, she thinks, staring at the gory floor. Guess you did...

Nothing has meaning unless you suppose it is capable of greater depth. Nina only knows that if her father (creator) can weep for joy while bleeding to death, then her rebirth must be a good occasion.

Daddy has his little darling back...