(where is she, where is she)
[Her hands sting and bleed as she runs on all fours, the rocks slicing her with vindictiveness. With her growing distress, it becomes harder to think with words–but this is natural to her. It was a borrowed process to begin with. Now in this dire situation, she can only conceive thoughts she feels relevant–short clipped things that sear boldly in a canvas of white.]
(i have to find her, i have to find the warrior.)
[The size of these strange caverns alarms her. Her nose, weak in this form, cannot grasp a proper scent. All she knows is that she is at the source of wrongness, and she wishes to leave.]
(where is my protector)
[As she flees, she registers the nearing wail of the water creature, and it makes her fevered and clumsy. The sound stretches and warbles, echoing off the rocky walls and causes dust to drift from the ceiling. She cannot name the thing for certain. But as a being born of spirit as much as flesh, she knows that no attack against the monster can hope to stop it. Without this last defense, she feels helpless.]
[She hears splashing and whips around to see that other creatures have emerged from the shadows. They twist and they gurgle, and she thinks she can hear them cursing her in some ancient tongue. They bare down on her from all around, bizarre forms trickling past stalagmites and large rock formations. She hisses, back bunching, hands tensed in an attempt to extract non-existent claws. They’ll make her drown from the inside. Make her face bloat–make her eyes, mouth, and ears flood. The monsters’ tentacles fire deadly barbs with a harsh whip. Baldwin’s face flashes in her brain before she roars beneath the rain of water.]
She told herself to scream, because she figured it would make her feel better. But where would that sound go, in this terrible place? What would that sound mean here? It hardly meant a thing to her, after all… She was dead. A ghost…right? So what did it mean when the sound of anguish curled out of her mouth like a desperate hand?
…Aw, who cares…
Elmiryn pushed herself upright, and her limbs shook with the effort. She came to an angle her spine disagreed with and fell back again, pain incising itself into her nerves. That dubious noise came to her lips once more, but rather than take flight, it clung there, shuddering, before it was lost in a sudden bark of laughter.
She had always wondered if Halward, moral god, would see fit to cast her in some dank hell. Well…she got her answer. How could she have survived such a crash of water? It cast her into dark–shattered her completely beyond recognition, like glass, like a mirror…
An emerald glow diffused from stark, jagged grins, and stony visages–quiet, quiet sentinels that leered at her as she tried to make sense of her surroundings. Or perhaps she was inside the mouth of a larger monster? Perhaps this creature was an amalgam of wrath and pride, crafted by Halward himself, to contain her for eternity?
Her scabbard dug into her leg, and her clothes clung to her skin. Though it hurt, Elmiryn lifted her head to look down at herself. Her skin was damp–naturally–she had just been killed by a wave after all. Only…
…It felt thick.
Then her heart gave a twist.
“No…” She whispered. She fought against the base sensations of her body as a new pain, a new horror, took precedence. Nausea washed over her and she felt as if her head would split in two. “No, no, no!!”
She rolled over so that she were on her knees, and she felt the scales of the monster she was trapped in scrape and bite into her flesh. “Meznik!” The woman’s voice broke as she almost fell over from the agony. “Meznik!” Elmiryn forced the name out of her mouth as she shoved to her feet. “Meznik, where are you! You bastard!” She trembled. She wiped at her face roughly.
She had to get the slime off…the illness…the sickness…it was on her skin…
Elmiryn looked at her hands. Water, clear water, dripped from her fingertips. She would have breathed a sigh of relief had she not noticed the dark stain that blossomed on the palm of her right glove. With a scowl, the redhead took off the bracer and peeled the glove away to reveal the bandaged hand beneath. The cloth was also dark.
Do ghosts bleed?
“I don’t feel it…” Elmiryn whispered as she slowly unwrapped her hand. The stitched skin–previously a source of discomfort she only just managed to ignore–seemed as far removed as any unrelated image. The skin had become puffy and purplish, the stitches stretched apart over an angry valley of crimson that came flowing out in eager currents now that there wasn’t the barrier of a bandage. She figured she should have felt it. Everything ELSE hurt…so why then…why then did this…not register?
Elmiryn looked around, her eyes glassy. “Meznik,” she called in a calmer voice. “Where are you? I know you’re here, I can feel you.”
Ahead of her, there was a space of impenetrable black. Fangs and uneven gums marked the passage to that place. By some twist in her stomach, the woman was certain her tormentor was in that darkness. She took a tentative step in that direction, breath shallow as she fought to remain on her feet.
“You gave me your name. But you still hide your face,” She whispered. Steam seemed to exhale from the fangs. This smoke curled with a current of air she was unaware of. “…Well…you won,” Elmiryn said. She dropped her glove and bracer and spread her arms apart.
“Have at me.”
Her jaw tightened.
“Go on,” She growled.
Fucker. She was here, she was dead. Whatever scheme he had, it had succeeded. There was nothing left to do now but to take what he had always wanted. Yet here he was, continuing to play games. Toying with her. The warrior was certain she could hear the demon–reveling in this monster’s insides–festering like a wound in his black sanctuary.
Elmiryn screamed, and she could feel it pierce into the hellish atmosphere. “HAVE AT ME, I SAID!”
The smoke, which seemed to screen the passage, swirled at her voice, and the woman blinked as her mind briefly registered what appeared to be a rictus grin.
Then she heard the echo of a roar that tore her assertions down with staggering efficiency.
Elmiryn’s eyes widened and her head turned slightly to the side. “…Nyx?”
But her attention was reclaimed when the smoky grin dispersed in a startled hiss, and a crimson tentacle of muscle and veins speared toward her…
[She’s certain of her end. Inside her, The Other is screaming. They drift further apart, anger and blame ripping a chasm as far as a mile between them. Then suddenly, She is knocked to the side, the splats of a dozen missed barbs hitting the hard wall. She crashes onto her shoulder, neck and jaw taking a sharp jolt of pain before she finds herself dragged to her feet by broad hands.]
“Run! Run girl, run!”
Leather armor, studded. His helmet was gone, probably lost from the wave. A name came to me, and within a moment I found my words again.
It was Sedwick.
He carried me off, more strength in his form then could be guessed by looking at him. Still, as we avoided more of those insidious barbs, I could feel his grip slipping, and I worked harder to keep pace. Whatever the things were, they were slow, and as luck would have it, the passage we took didn’t lead into a dead end. As we ran, the glow from the rocks shifted–from cobalt, to yellow; from red, to violet–like the cavern itself was a living creature, and our fleeing set it into a frenzy.
It was disorienting. Sedwick kept stumbling, and even I found it hard to keep my pace steady. We came to a large chamber, and here there were no pools. Blue light painted our skin. The blacksmith slowed to a stop, panting.
I looked at him and snorted. My eyes were wide, and I was certain that my skin was plagued as much by my own fear-induced sweat as the poisonous waters of the Medwin. I gazed back through the oval shaped passage we had just come from. From it echoed the wails of those water monsters.
“Where’s Baldwin?” Sedwick suddenly asked, looking up at me from his bent position.
I looked at him, startled. After a brief pause, I shrugged.
“You don’t know?”
He sighed and shook his head. “He shouldn’t have come.”
I looked away. My throat felt tight, but I tried to ignore it. “Let’s go.”
The man took another second to take a breath, then straightened, shouldering his spear. “Yes. Let’s find the others.”
“The others! The others! They have to find the others!”
Laughter echoed through the chamber. Both Sedwick and I jumped–he settling into some fighting stance, while I simply ducked and tensed my hands. (i miss my claws)
A shadow danced over the walls before a man came into view, from behind a tall set of stalagmites. He had a strong chin and a full, flat face, with short black hair and elfish ears. His eyes were slanted, dark and shiny. His generous lips were parted to reveal large horse teeth. He came toward us, gait loping, like a person running across a room where a party was being held.
Sedwick didn’t lower his spear as he stared at the man. “…It’s you…” was all he said.
“Hey! Aren’t you that fine gentleman I spoke to a while ago?” The man wagged his finger. “You’re late! Tsk, tsk! I’ve been waiting in this place for what seemed like ages for someone to come get me.”
The tip of Sedwick’s spear dipped a little. “We…thought you were dead.”
I moved a little behind the blacksmith, my mouth parted as I panted anxiously. I didn’t like the look of this newcomer’s eyes.
Sedwick looked at me. “It’s all right, Nyx. This is the man we hired before Elmiryn.” He looked back at the adventurer. “Aidan, I think the name was, right?”
With alarming quickness, the man grabbed the blacksmith by the neck with both hands and gave him a rough shake. Spit came dribbling out of his insane grin. “You remember my name!” Sedwick grunted, his eyes wide as he tried to push the man away with one arm. Aidan didn’t let go, didn’t even seem phased as he giggled. “I’ve had nightmares! Nightmares, man! Afraid that I’d be forgotten in this hell hole! That not a soul would remember me! Not a one!” His smile vanished and at once all the muscles in his face tightened. His hands wrapped themselves around Sedwick’s throat. “But you remembered me…you knew I was here. You just didn’t come.”
Veins, like creeping plant vines, appeared beneath the collar of his cotton shirt. They were thick and purplish, and spread onto his face just as water would across the ground.
He slid one foot back, and with incredible force, drove his knee into the blacksmith’s gut. The man was lifted into the air briefly before he crashed onto the ground with an “Ooph!” He didn’t move again.
Aidan then turned to me. “And you are supposed to be my competition? You think you can stop the guardian? You bitch. I’ve fought trolls, werewolves, and witches! What can you possibly do but insult my memory with your pathetic efforts!?” He advanced on me, shoulders squared and fists clenched, his grotesque face contorted in rage, all pretense of jovial humor gone. I found myself falling backwards, scrambling.
Spit flew from his mouth as he roared, “I’ll kill you!”
His foot came up and he moved to stomp my chest. I rolled out of the way, moving back to all fours. I saw his other foot come around toward my face but didn’t have time to react before…
[It connected. Her head snaps to the side, pain smashing into her like a hammer that knocks away her prose. She falls to her side, and he assails her again–stomping fast and hard with the heel of his foot until she’s coughing up blood and feels her sternum crack. The agony stabs at her, and her vision fogs. She is forced upright by the front of her clothes. Her head is slammed into the rock. Again and again. She’s certain he could kill her outright, with one blow, but he’s purposefully holding back. Making her hurt. Aidan is giggling as he straddles her.]
(…i’ll kill you…)
[The feeling, enters her heart. Aidan stops slamming her head, and instead back hands her–perhaps because of the strangled noise that had slipped her stained lips.]
(…i’ll rip you apart…)
[The Other, her ghost, her other self, speaks, and she just barely manages to hear her through the ringing and pounding in her head.]
[Her back arches, and vainly she claws at Aidan’s face. She feels her dull nails scrape into the uneven flesh. Disgust rises in her and she grabs one of his arms instead.]
(i can’t. he won’t let me.)
(he won’t let me. he won’t let me!)
[She gnashes her teeth as she feels Aidan’s hands enclose around her throat. He leers at her, his eyes like dark stones that wink at her from beneath the short crop of his hair. Then she roars, vocal chords–though short of the animal ferocity she knows–still carries out in a note that rattles her audience.]
[She grips Aidan’s wrist and places her other hand at his elbow. There is a brief pause from him as he feels her shift beneath her, as he sees the wild determination set into her scarlet face. She bares her teeth for a moment before she digs her shoulders back into the rocky surface and pushes with all her might at Aidan’s elbow, forcing it in the opposite direction of its bend.]
[His eyes widen at the sudden brute strength that fights him, and he resists with a grunt. At best he manages to keep his arm straight, but She dredges up all she has in her and presses in. His arm shakes and shudders before it gives.]
[There is the snap of bone and the wet tear of flesh ripping. Aidan’s scream sends her into a frenzy, the blood that sprays her face cold and stale. This man is not alive. And soon, his charade will end, she will make certain of it.]
[He collapses on her, his arm–with its bone poking through the skin–no longer able to support him. The death that encloses her throat is gone, and she gasps, shuddering, before weakly shoving the lunatic off of her. He lies there, speaking to himself in dazed gibberish, the veins in his face pulsing red and angry. The light of the cavern has shifted to a pale yellow.]
[She sits up with much effort, body battered, her chest hurting. Her vision blurs and a part of her wishes to remain still and never move again. …But the desire to live and see her threat gone wins out. She crawls on all fours toward Sedwick, who only just begins to stir. She does not wait to see what he does or if he is okay. The threat is still there. Still liable to do them harm. She takes his spear, forgotten on the ground, and with it pushes herself to her feet. She growls inaudibly, forcing her sapien chords to work in ways it was never meant to.]
[As she stands over Aidan, she sees that the veins have spread to his wound and now wrap around it–knitting the flesh back together. But he is still prone on the ground, lost in his pain. She raises the spear high before she stabs downward, into Aidan’s chest. His head raises from the ground, and he gurgles. She does this again, and again…and again. The muted noise of his decimation is sweet to her, but not quite enough to satisfy her anger, to chase away her disgust…to quell her fear.]
[Sedwick. Or The Other. She isn’t sure. The voice seems far away and unimportant. The man hurt her. The man had sought to make her feel as much pain as possible before he killed her. The bastard. The man had to hurt. He had to suffer.]
[She screams defiantly against the dubious protest, before burying the spear in Aidan’s throat. She leans into the weapon, twists it, wiggles it–feels the tip of the spear finally scrape the rock on the other side. She wills for the head to come off completely–]
[But then she is knocked from behind and her body falls to the ground.]
[There, her strength leaves her. She feels her sternum knit back together beneath her chest. Her body is healing, but the pain does not go away. Her bones ache, her skin burns.]
[The Other is forcing her way forward.]
(…you aren’t…no…you can’t…)
[She screeches as she feels the bones and muscles of her chest shift beneath her fevered skin. Sedwick reclaims his spear and looks down at her in horror.]
(…i…am the only one…the only one! the blood that was shed was mine!)
[Her boots are kicked off to reveal padded, furry paws. Her fingers retract, claws protrude; her nose turns small and wet, fangs gnash in her mouth, and porcelain skin is lost to black fur. She is confused. She is…]
[Her back legs are short and bend the other way. She feels a tail sweeping the seat of her pants. She snorts and swipes at her nose with her paw because she feels the odor of this place assail her on a level that she had only conceived of in dreams. The closest she knew of this life–this unique perception–was when she turned into the cat woman, as she had done at Toah. Then, she could stand on hind legs and still had opposable thumbs. But this…this…]
…Sweet Aelurus, I had come back…but in the wrong body.