Betwixt and Between

Part One: Chapter Eight


"Off to in her castle, laid upon the stairs, she showered him with daffodils and tied ribbons in his hair.

He woke for bare a moment, and she wouldn't let him weep: with lips of only roses, she kissed him down to sleep."


The description of Nightling changing left Emmat a little chilled. "He didn't actually hurt anyone, did he?" he asked at the next pause.

"No, no," Tavarez assured him. "And he probably would have been mortified if he had. I held him back."

"But why did he do that?"

"We trapped him," Tavarez said calmly, too calmly for someone talking about something like that. "He was afraid, he'd been tricked, and he wanted out. I'm not honestly surprised, now that I think about it, knowing him a little better. It was just how he changed, how quickly, that was surprising, not his reaction itself."

"Was it a spirit?" Emmat asked. He'd heard of that-- he even had a few songs about it in his repertoire. "Possession?" 

"No, I don't think so. Even then, I hadn't really thought so: so many spirits wouldn't flock to a single person like that. I counted at least seven or eight distinct changes, as if he were seven or eight or more different people. That would require seven or eight or more spirits all hovering around him, taking him over by turns. No." Tavarez shook his head. "It was something else."

"He is crazy," Emmat stated. He'd heard about people who acted like different people at times, though he'd never met one and he hoped he never would. He didn't have any songs about that, however.... Unless he counted his Hero song. 

"Some people certainly think so." Tavarez sipped his drink, silent a moment in thought.

"What did Yula do, after all that? Go home?"

That made the tale-teller smile. "Of course not. After all that work, just give up and go home? No. She was certain she loved him, no matter what. She came with us."


The slow rise and fall of the ship was soothing, as it made its way down the river, and the tiny but private room he'd been given dark and cool, but he didn't sleep. He couldn't. He didn't want to. He hadn't slept in three days, now, but he still didn't want to. Not after the nightmare he'd endured while trapped in the hut. He lay curled on his side on the bunk set into the cabin wall, but his eyes were open and staring at the blank wood in he darkness.

The heat was heavy, the cabin stuffy and far too small. But aside from the ship's captain, he was the only one who had his own room, his own cabin. It was better than sharing, and he was grateful for that, at least. For once, despite summer, he had submitted to walls, so that they could travel a little faster than the speed they would make on foot alone. Walls in the summertime were better than not knowing. He'd said that. He still meant it, but that didn't mean he had to like walls in the summertime. On the small, southbound riverboat, there really weren't any open places, except on deck, and that was usually crowded by the ship's crew. The cabin was really all he had, and with summer all around, he made use of it.

But this summer was different from the rest. He wasn't alone, he wasn't free, he was wearing clothes and eating cooked food, and he was going somewhere. The Rattai, who had finally introduced himself as Tavarez, was taking him somewhere. That's all he knew. He didn't know where, or what would be there when they arrived, or even how long it would take to get there. Tavarez had said something about a sanctuary, but that could have meant any number of things. He didn't care, as long as it meant knowing. Tavarez, somehow, at the end of this trip, would provide the means for learning which world was which. That's all he needed to know. He didn't know what those means were, or what kind of responsibility they would entail, but it didn't matter.

That those means would require him to change, perhaps drastically, the way he lived... well, it would be worth it. It wasn't as if the way he lived now was particularly special; it was just surviving. If he had to change how he survived, as long as he did survive, he would. Anything would be better than the not knowing.

Someone knocked on the door. From the sound, he could guess who it was.


Yula. She'd been his most constant visitor, and though he hadn't yet let her in, she still seemed hopeful that he would.

"Nightling, are you all right in there?"

Maybe if he just stayed quiet, she would go away....

"You've hardly come out since we got on this boat, Nightling. Why won't you talk to me?" A pause. He could imagine her, one ear pressed to the door, listening for some sound, any sound, from inside.

Then she spoke again. "Nightling... Tavarez says you leave every spring. Is that true? Every year, whatever place you stayed at, you leave in the spring?"

That was a question he could answer, though he did so without moving. "Yes."

She heard him. "Is that the same reason you won't talk to me or see me, now?"

He blinked in the darkness. "Yes."

"So it's not just me? I didn't-- do anything wrong? Did I do something wrong?" He looked over his shoulder at the shut door, at the line of light underneath, at the two shadows that were Yula's feet. "I didn't mean to scare you away, I just wanted to be with you, to see the world...."

"No," he said at last, a little surprised by the sound of the words. "It wasn't...." But, he realized, trailing off, in some small part it was. She'd wanted to come with him. Somehow, that prospect had been as stifling as Misha-Anju trying to hold him down with her own body, just as panic-inducing. Summer with Yula following after him, autumn again in another town with Yula following him, winter and the strangeness of spring, with Yula following him... it wasn't right. But he couldn't just say that... it was cruel. And she was a nice girl, really. He didn't want to say something cruel to her.

She was still silent, listening, waiting. 

"I always leave," he said finally. "It's summer. It wasn't you."

The relief was so palpable, on the other side of the door, that he could feel it, and he felt guilty for the lie, however small it was.

"So maybe... maybe later...?"

" .... Maybe."

Not yes, not no. Maybe. Gods....

"Please, Yula, would you... I just... let me be. For a while longer."

"Yes. I'm sorry... I'm sorry. Later, I know. Thank you, Nightling."

The shadows that were her feet moved away, and he pillowed his head on his arm, facing the wall again with a little sigh. He hoped that, whatever Tavarez's cure for whatever strange disease that waffling between two worlds might require, it happened soon.





Song borrowed from Five for Fighting's "Two Frogs", on the Message for Albert album

Draclin'geyar are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight; Fleshshifters are the Creative Property of Drakiera