Betwixt and Between
Part Two: Chapter Five
"I will call it solitude when all my songs fade in vain,
Like a voice far away, to eternity."
"Why are you stopping there??" Tavarez demanded, trying and failing to sound something other than on the verge of a laugh.
"Because my throat is dry from all that talking," Yula replied, teasing, as she got up. "I need some tea, or something."
"Well, talk while you pour," Tavarez ordered lightly, scooping his flit into the crook of his arm and following her. "Did you find anything on the other side of that door?"
"Of course we did," she answered him airily, filling the kettle with water. "But I'm not telling you what until I've had my tea."
"You are a cruel woman."
"No, I am a thirsty woman."
It only took a few minutes for the water to boil and tea to steep, and Yula was gracious enough to pour Tavarez a cup, as well, though she stoutly refused to tell him any more until she'd taken her first sip. It was actually rather fun, teasing him with something he actually wanted to know, and from the grin in his eyes, he was enjoying the banter just as much.
"So, where was I?" she said at last, with feigned nonchalance.
"Oh, yes! Well, Nightling had just opened the door...."
The room beyond the open door was surprisingly spacious, after the long trek through cramped tunnels, and also remarkably brightly lit, after the faint blue light that had followed them thus far. The walls were curved gracefully, with fluid, impressive-looking carvings everywhere, the bright, apparently sourceless lights tucked into niches among them probably made just for them. There were no signs of tapestries, paintings, or statuettes for decoration, or even furniture. Just the bare, carved walls, a pair of archways leading to the left and right, and, at the far end of the room, a single throne-like chair shrouded in the only shadows in the whole room.
But it wasn't shadowed enough that it wasn't obvious there was someone in the chair, someone with frigidly white hair, an angular face and body, and a robe that spilled onto the floor and seemed to meld with the stone there. Whoever it was, she didn't seem to be moving-- or even breathing, but she were too far away to really tell-- but her eyes glinted, fixed inflexibly on Nightling and, it seemed, ignoring the others.
"Who is..." Yula began, but her voice trailed off before Lament could nip at her. Nightling was stepping carefully, warily closer, and he was shaking so hard even his hair was trembling. She bit her lip, wanting to follow him, but unsure what would happen if she did. He might not like it, it seemed so... personal, here and now.
Lament answered her half-asked question, though his eyes stayed on his bond. ::It's Sphiridon, the lady who kept him here, before he left and started wandering around Mythicalae. I think. It looks like her, anyway.::
Before Nightling had taken six steps into the room, an aged but still powerful voice, undeniably female, came from the throne: "Welcome home, child."
"L-lady Sphiridon," Nightling choked, stopping in the middle of the room to stare. Yula stared, too, trying to get a better look at "Sphiridon" without coming any closer. The shadows around her still hadn't lifted, and her robe melted so easily into the dark stone of her seat that it looked like her pale face and silver hair simply floated against the backrest, and her pale, long-fingered hands gripping the throne's arms seemed to exist separately from any body.
"You certainly took your time," the voice added acidly, and Nightling visibly twitched, hunching his shoulders. Yula very nearly snapped something rude until the expression on that wrinkled face softened somewhat and Sphiridon added, "Well, you never were particularly self-motivated, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."
"You were-- waiting for me?" Nightling asked tentatively.
"Of course. I invested a lot of time, effort, and magic in you, boy. I couldn't just let you slip away and disappear, even if I couldn't exactly follow you."
"But... who-- why--" Nightling stammered, moving closer again. "Why me? You never told me-- I don't remember you ever telling me."
"You don't remember a lot of things," Sphiridon said coldly. "Which is the very problem I spent so much of that time, effort, and magic in addressing. You are an exceptionally stubborn man, Karthekeyan."
"What?" Yula asked, at the very same time as Nightling, who sounding even more blankly puzzled. Not only had she not ever applied the word "stubborn" to Nightling, and could hardly imagine a time when she could have, but she'd never heard the last word before.
"You're stubborn," Sphiridon repeated, but at his quick headshake, she seemed to understand and added, "Karthekeyan? It's your name, boy. Karthekeyan ve Navaser of the line of Saralonde. Don't tell me you've forgotten."
Nightling somehow wound up on the ground, sitting hard and still staring at the old woman. "I had," he said, his voice shaking, and that time Yula crept forward to put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. She couldn't imagine ever forgetting her own name-- not even if it were a long as his seemed to be. He didn't seem to even feel her touch.
"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at that, either," the old woman grumbled. For how impressive she looked, and how climactic this moment seemed like it should be, she just sounded like a crotchety old lady. She sounded... like a normal person. "You've tried so hard to leave everything behind you, haven't you?" Before he could answer, those flint-hard eyes flicked to Yula, who stood up as straight as she could, trying to look defiant. "And who is this? And that, by the door?"
"Yula, and Lament," Nightling answered vaguely. He still sounded stunned, and from a glance down at his face, he still looked stunned. "Friends... I wouldn't be here, if not for them."
"Then I'll thank them both. I've been trying to lure you back here for centuries now."
"Lure me back--"
"Hasn't worked very well. You are remarkably resistant-- and, as I said, stubborn."
Nightling climbed unsteadily to his feet. "It was all real. It all happened, didn't it? All those things I dream about...."
"Some of them," Sphiridon agreed. "Some of the things you dream are fabricated memories rather than true ones, but you did live here a very long time."
"But-- why?" Nightling repeated, approaching her with shaky steps. She didn't so much as bat an eyelash. "You never told me-- you never said. I don't know why you kept me here, where all those Others were, why you made me do things, what you expected from me."
"Because you are the Key," Sphiridon said simply.
"The key? The key to what?"
"To the sun. To hope. To everything. You never did remember it, no matter what I did or said, I expect simply because you didn't want to. And you still don't."
"The key-- to everything?" Yula said blankly, looking between Nightling and the old woman. Nightling couldn't possibly be that important-- he was so quiet and unassuming, even servile-- and he didn't seem to have much in the way of magic, or anything, even.
"To everything that matters to us, anyway," Sphiridon clarified without looking at her. "Nothing that would concern you, I'm sure."
"It concerns us," Lament protested, finally saying something, though he sounded nervous rather than defiant, like he was probably going for. "Wherever he goes, I go."
"He won't be going anywhere until he remembers who and what he is," Sphiridon said scathingly. "Nor will I have anything I can do for him."
"Please, Lady," Nightling-- Karth... key... whatever his name was!-- interrupted meekly, "what happened? How did I leave this place?"
"Don't remember that, even? You jumped, right out that cave entrance." Nightling and Lament both stiffened just a little, and Yula tightened her hand on the former's shoulder. He still didn't acknowledge her presence. "Somehow managed to transform and fly away, too-- another thing I could never get you to remember, shifting and flying. Because I thought being out in the world might help you remember more, I let you go. You were getting hard to control, anyway...." The old woman sighed, as if in regret, then continued, "By the time I realized it wasn't working, I was too busy keeping my grand-niece distracted so you'd be safe to go chasing after you again, not until the past couple decades, anyway."
"Technically great-great-grand-neice, but yes. She's been trying to steal you away ever since she knew you existed. Wants the Key all to herself, that one does. Well, she oughtn't have any idea where you are, now, at least as long as you don't stay long. I haven't had the wards up for centuries now. You should probably get on your way."
"On our way!" Yula repeated incredulously. "You just said he was this important person, with someone after him, and now you want us to leave? Aren't you going to help him?"
Sphiridon glared at her, but she refused to quail, no matter how intimidating the old bat looked. "I can't. I've done everything I can for him. He's got to start thinking back, himself, and remember things himself. He can," she said firmly, frosty gaze going back to Nightling, who did quail, "he just doesn't want to. And the longer you stay, the more likely it is my grand-niece will find you-- not to mention the more likely the caves will wake to recognize who has finally returned to them."
"What does that mean--" Yula tried to ask, but Nightling went rigid, as if he understood perfectly.
"The Others," he rasped. "Oh, gods, we should go-- the song is gone, they can find me anywhere they like-- Lady, is there anything...?"
"Think back as far as you can," Sphiridon said, more gently than anything else she'd said so far, "and then think back farther. Think hard about what it means to be a key, and about everything you remember from your time here. You will understand. Then you can come back to me, and I can help you again. Now go, before you attract unwanted attention."
Nightling didn't have to be told twice. He turned and promptly broke for the door, grabbing a nonplussed Yula's hand on his way out the door.
Song borrowed from the OST for Hack//Sign, the song "The World"
Draclin'geyar are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight; Fleshshifters are the Creative Property of Drakiera