The instant my skin touched the glass, pain reared up behind my eyes. Pressure made them feel that they were about to burst out of my skull, and I squinched my eyelids closed, just to be safe. Somewhere else in my head I was sure there were knives being stabbed into me, but I couldn’t tell where. My focus dimmed and I wondered vaguely if this really was the one that was going to kill me.
Think of something else. Nothing came, the pain was too intense. There were pyres in my skull, their towering flames rearing up to devour me. Molten heat dripped inside my brain, covering my head in its sadistic torture and making me break out in a sweat. I half-expected the flower to melt beneath my hand, but the heat was all within me. I shuddered as another flash of agony ripped through me, threatening to tear my body apart from the inside. With what little focus I lad left, I concentrated on keeping my hand on the rose.
A tiny, distant sliver of myself marveled at my strength. Look at what I could go through. But then again, I had done this before. I knew what to expect, more or less. Yet it did nothing to lessen the pain.
Only a second later, the vision began. I welcomed the distraction from the pain, choosing to ignore the part where it would get worse as it went on. Random images flared in my sight: molten glass, a woman’s hand tracing the petals with a short finger, money passing over it as it rested on a wooden counter. My hopes began to die as the flashes continued without any information about my quest.
Wait, there – one second, not even a whole second, but I had seen something. Her hand on the rose. And a note beside it, clutched in her other hand, one word written on it: Duke.
More images flooded me, blurring together so quickly I had no chance to decipher them. The pain in my head throbbed. My limbs shook; my system was telling me it had had enough. One leg gave out and I tipped sideways, nearly smashing the rose.
I had to concentrate. Get my hand off this thing, before it killed me. How did my hand work? Uncurl the fingers. There we go.
It took only ten seconds to get my hand free, but it felt much, much longer than that to my tortured body. Finally, I let my hand drop, empty, down to my side.
The pain subsided. The pictures ceased. I was left in the blessed dim light, myself again. Each breath I took shuddered through me, and I sank shakily to my knees to keep from falling over. I kept my eyes closed, but the images of the rose would not dim.