Elmiryn cared about as much as anyone could care, with their mind drifting in a primordial soup of half-formed ideas and dark static. Where was she? Who knew. What was she supposed to be doing? Who cared. She was wallowing in the tears of gods–wretched beings who screwed her over because of her penchant for drink and biting steel. No faces, no images, no damned misconception haunted the woman, even as she felt herself lift up out of the pools of sadness.
Ghosts can never be haunted themselves, after all.
She giggled at the idea.
“…can’t see me…“ Elmiryn slurred as a rope of saliva slipped out the edge of her mouth. She felt like she were hanging over something, and she thought she heard a grumbling and a rumbling. Her nose rubbed into a fabric that smelled familiar–dusty and wild. Her mind distilled with an idea, and because nothing else sounded plausible (or interesting) she stuck to it.
“…I’m being carried by a turnip.”
She tried to shift and lifted her head, eyes barely open, to better see whatever it was that now had her. “Arr…arrrr…” she snickered and made a hook with her finger. “Yar.” But Elmiryn shook the humor from her head. She had an important question. So she willed her mouth to work.
“Turn-ip. Oi, turnip…have you…aren’t you…yeah, that’s it…aren’t you thirsty? Gotta drink…right? Try the tears…gods tears…hey turnip…heeey….” Elmiryn tried to force her voice to a level she thought reasonable, but then this concern became irrelevant.
“Ah’m talkin’ to a fuggin’ turnip…” She muttered, as she allowed her head to drop again. “Why’m I…y’know I don’t remember drinkin’…so wassamatter…wif me?” Her ears were ringing. She swiped at them. “Damn noise. I think I’m s’posed to be something. Not doing something…not…no, that’s different… yeah, I’m being something wrong, aren’t I? I’m wrong…I’m all wrong…”
Then she remembered. “Nyx?” She pushed away from the wild fabric, hands planted shakily, and felt it shift beneath her palms. Elmiryn blinked and thought she saw feet flashing in and out of view, but they didn’t look human. “…Hey…Nyx…where are you…?” Her eyes teared up. “You didn’t go did you? Fuck…I didn’t think you’d actually do it…or at least I don’t think I did…”
Elmiryn kept talking. Thought she was unconscious. Or close to it.
Kinda wished she were all the way unconscious.
Wouldn’t stop wiggling.
I halted my steps.
Shadow in my light. Blocked the way out.
Don’t know where he came from.
…He smelled like rotten meat.
“You…bitch…” I heard him say. He held up his spear and screamed.
I dropped Elmiryn and screamed back.
…I hated all of this...
She felt herself crash onto a hard surface, as if unceremoniously dumped. Spots and pain wracked through her. Elmiryn blacked out, and she slipped through a grate of existence that could no longer hold the grains of her being. She was in an inky void.
One that sang.
Elmiryn, reduced to a collected consciousness that ebbed and flowed, considered her situation. (“I know this song.”) Melodious black. (“I sing it to others.”) Had she finally discovered death? Funny how even in her stupor, she managed to rebel against the simple concept of laying down to die.
…But something was amiss. She could feel something foreign and invisible root its way into her being. And why, in all this space, did she feel like she were being crushed?
The haunting melody of this dark nothing world threaded and weaved into her–she could feel it. Words within the notes came and stirred within her as they spirited away things she could not name. (“I thought there were no lyrics…”)
This isn’t a pretentious sojourn into human psychosis.
Your thoughts are suspect. Your feelings are suspect.
Callous as an animal, it’s no wonder you make friends with the deranged.
So…our intrepid heroine NOW finds appearance important.
Without the ‘appearance’ of sympathy, you risk your soul decaying faster.
Pretend to care, pretend to want, pretend to feel.
It was clever getting thread to stitch and hold yourself together.
…but if the thread was poorly spun?
Her consciousness swirled, fury stirring it like water in a cup.
(“Bastard, I’ll kill you!”)
Why are you angry at me?
Her thoughts seemed to expand. She resisted the music and fought the roots of its melody as it attempted to suck her away. To what she didn’t know. She didn’t understand any of this, she just knew…
(“I’ll have your head!”)
Without a proper reason for it, I see no way for it to fall into your hands.
(“Why are you doing this?”)
Ah. It’s true. You want me dead, but you don’t even know why.
(“I bet you get a kick out of all of this.”)
Not true. The essence I’m harvesting from you is hardly enough.
I’m feeling empty.
You leave me feeling empty, Elmiryn. I figure this is only fair.
Your companion will die. She’s powerful as she is, but her inability to control herself will soon prove her mishap. And the guardian isn’t even here yet.
Isn’t this amusing?
(“I’ll get free of this…”) The roots burrowed in deeper. Her thoughts became fractured and maligned. (“I…will…free…”) Sentences broke apart. All she was left with…
…Your hate isn’t acidic, or even bitter. How is this possible? Your loathing is just this effervescent mass.
…I take it back. You may fill me just yet.
Elmiryn felt herself get pulled up–as much as she had an understanding of up or down–and she became aware of a warmth in the conscious darkness. Close by was a tightly tangled, nettled knot of pulsing green light. Beyond it, a loose blue and white bundle of threads that squirmed like worms in a bucket. Still further on, but closing in fast by some curious weave and path of its own, was a white hot stream.
Alarmed, Elmiryn’s thoughts condensed and wrapped around two concerns.
What were these things? And what was that white light coming towards her?
Why concerned, Elle? Do you even KNOW if the light is coming for you? Maybe it’s coming for something else?
Then what will happen when it will come? She wondered.
Consumption, I suppose. I don’t know. I’m not controlling this scene anymore than you are.
But you are, is the wordless feeling that caused Elmiryn to condense further. (“…All…your…doing…”)
MY doing? I shift some mirrors and backdrops around and suddenly this is my fault? It was the guardian’s choice to go mad, just as it was your choice to hunt me.
Yes. Choice. Someone as willful as you, Elmiryn, knows all about it, I’m sure.
(“But this…can’t…doesn’t make any…”)
Of course it makes sense. You just lack perspective.
The word echoed, like vocal percussion, beneath the melody that now seemed as one with her. (“…I can’t…see from here…”)
Her thoughts hardened completely, locking inside them the Unnamed Song. She became aware of limbs, of breath, and of the heart beating feebly in her chest. Though black still shielded her gaze, she made to stand. Her body didn’t seem to understand her command, or was too feeble to comply, but the simple fact that she could try, made her double her efforts.
If the attempt could be made, chances were…she could succeed.
“I said…I can’t see…from here…”
She began to hum, to block him out–that leeching bastard. She matched him, note by note, like a wife hogging the sheets. He could not reside in the music. Not if she pushed him out.
“Gaze through your slime, asshole…” she thought with a curled lip. “I know now that’s how you’ve been watching this whole time. By the slime on the walls. That’s why they kept changing color, like signals. You wanted us to end up here, didn’t you?” She started to pick things out of the black fog in her vision. Her lidded eyes stared through damp locks as she saw a battle rage between two phantoms–Nyx and Sedwick. The image only grew clearer.
What good…opening your eyes…can’t see?
“I can see fine,” she said with a grin as she pushed herself up to her knees. Elmiryn removed her bracer and, with shallow breath, peeled back her glove. Her eyes blinked, then she grinned wider. Feeling returned to the wound on her palm, and it was not puffed up at all. Even the stitching had managed to hold. “I see I’m not really bleeding.”
With a few quick breaths, the warrior shoved herself to her feet. Her vision erupted in spots, and she reeled for a moment before a shake of the head steadied her. Elmiryn ran her tongue over her lips where a few drops of water had clung to. It tasted of sediment.
“I see that the water is not really poisoned.” She drew her sword.
One foot before the other. Elmiryn felt her center of gravity leave her, and the air about her wavered like curtains in the breeze. She assumed the large form she saw in front of her was Nyx. The Ailuran battled against the shorter, but stockier form of Sedwick, whose armor and voice (though strained as it was) gave him away.
“I see that Nyx is still here.”
They had trailed away some yards, Nyx with the blacksmith backing steadily toward a misshapen wall as she spat and hissed at him. She gave great swipes with her claws, her body crouched low to the ground. The man parried her attacks and never lost his footing. Upon her third swipe, Sedwick ducked low and thrust upward.
Nyx roared as the blacksmith’s spear dug into her left shoulder. With a strength that belied his size, the man pushed the Ailuran back, a roar of his own betraying his countenance of self-control and confidence.
Elmiryn, who had been dimly advancing toward them, lurched forward with her sword held up and a spark ignited in the dark of her eyes. Feet away, she thought she registered some rotten odor, and it was in the poor light that she realized something was wrong with Sedwick’s face–like it had been deformed and twisted.
Uncertain of the circumstances of this situation, the warrior opted to swipe at the spear first. With one stroke, the wood splintered. Nyx stumbled back, snarling. Sedwick let out a scream at his decimated weapon and turned menacingly on the woman. Some of his spit landed on her collar bone. Elmiryn, blank in expression, moved instantaneously.
As Sedwick thrust the broken end of his spear toward her gut, she stepped aside and wrapped her free arm around his. With the tender flesh of his forearm against the side of her ribcage, Elmiryn kneed the blacksmith in the stomach, and before she brought her foot down, twisted her leg so that she hooked the back of the man’s left leg. She pulled then stepped down at it harshly. This forced Sedwick into a kneel.
Still with his arm trapped, Elmiryn then took the hilt of her sword and seriously considered slicing the appendage off before opting instead to simply strike hard at his elbow. He grunted as his arm spasmed and released the broken shaft.
The redhead placed the blade at Sedwick’s throat. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked quietly. She could feel her blood rushing through her, but it was a curious feeling–and one she realized she wasn’t supposed to be conscious of.
Behind her she heard the scrape of claws on rock. Elmiryn shoved Sedwick to the ground and stood between him and Nyx. Her eyes had adjusted well enough to the darkness that she could see the contortion of anger in the Ailuran’s face. Was it even safe to call her a girl anymore, now that she could tower over Elmiryn with little effort?
Nyx skittered to a halt, nose snorting in obvious frustration. Blood stained her gambeson. Elmiryn shook her head as the Ailuran stepped almost nose to nose with her and snarled something unintelligible.
“No…Nyx,” she said slowly. “We can’t kill him.”
The woman gazed at her companion for a moment longer before turning around to gaze at Sedwick. The man had curled into a ball and whimpered under his breath as his body trembled. His exposed hands pulsed with thick, dark veins.
Elmiryn knelt by him. She recalled the white threads she saw, intertwined with blue ones. Her lips pursed. “Sedwick. You and the river guardian…you’re somehow connected aren’t you? That’s why you’ve changed…right?”
The man peeked out from the folds of his arms. The woman couldn’t see his eyes, but was certain a level of humanity was gone from their shine forever.
“I know things…as she does…” He breathed. “Not…it…it isn’t harmony. We aren’t connected.” He sniffled and turned briefly to wipe his nose on his shoulder. Then with a grunt, he sat up. Elmiryn helped him, only vaguely aware of the growl that came out of Nyx when she did so.
“But I understand.” Sedwick continued. “Her madness. And I have her strength, and I have her rage.” Sedwick began to sob, and his scar wrinkled as his shoulders shook hard. “And I understand…her pain. It’s overwhelming me. I can hardly make out myself in all that’s stuffed my head now…” He wailed and buried his face in his hands. “And I let that other adventurer here to rot and die,” he cried into his palms. “And I brought that young boy here to die, and it wouldn’t have gone this far if that monster,” he straightened and pointed at Nyx, his expression turned ugly. “Hadn’t come here! If you hadn’t come!” He yelled next at Elmiryn.
The roar of water crashing against rock.
Elmiryn turned her head at the sound. “Sedwick, you said you understood what the guardian was thinking as its flesh became a part of you?”
He nodded his head, then turned his face away. “I’m only just controlling myself now…but I feel like I’m fading into the background. The guardian’s knowledge is my knowledge now. That’s how I found you. There’s another way in here from the right, past that boulder. She’s coming through there now.”
The dim light of the cavern was blotted out as the river guardian spilled out of the very entrance Sedwick pointed out and drew itself before the lit archways. It screeched. Elmiryn somehow knew it was a sound addressed to her.
She stood and took slow steps toward it, and her boots made ripples in the puddles she trailed through. The ground smoothed as she came nearer, and the puddles ceased to be. She stood on dry rock, the guardian’s wayward sanctuary. She wanted to meet it with little aversion. It would not touch the water. It was repelled by the water, though it suffered without it.
Disconnected. Fractured. As Elmiryn was.
The answer was in front of her. She could see it, clear as day. So she spread her arms wide and let her sword clatter to the ground.
Elmiryn smiled, showing all teeth.
“Meznik, I can see…that the guardian doesn’t really want me dead.”
And quick as a flash flood, the spiritual creature surged forth and swallowed her beneath its crimson waves