Betwixt and Between
Part Two: Chapter Six
"The fields are filled with desires, all voices crying for freedom,
But all in vain, they will fade away."
"Circles within circles!" Tavarez commented, whiskers twitching like he'd caught wind of a mystery he wanted to solve. "This keeps getting more and more interesting. A key to the sun, hope, and everything else, is he?"
"Oh, I'm still not sure I believe all that," Yula answered, albeit a bit uncertainly, because she had seen some very strange things that day. It was just so strange to think of someone like him as being epically important. "Nightling? Important? He's just-- himself. A vagrant worker-for-hire, even if he is a little weird."
"Hmmm." Tavarez didn't seem convinced, but Yula wasn't going to try and do so, and since he changed the subject, she didn't have to. "Did you ever find out just who that old woman was?" he asked. "Besides just her name?"
"Nightling still doesn't remember," Yula shrugged awkwardly. "She didn't tell us, and until he remembers, we're both out of luck."
"And what about the caves 'recognizing' him? What was that all about?"
"Gods and ancestors," Yula shuddered. "That's what comes next. I lived through it and I still don't really understand it...."
"Nightling, slow down!" Yula gasped behind him. For a hare, she really didn't run very quickly.
"We can't," Nightling said, almost as breathlessly. Or Vagrant said. Or Karthekeyan. How could he have forgotten his own name? "If we do-- they might--"
::Please--:: Lament begged, behind them, having a hard time running full-out in tunnels meant for slightly smaller creatures. ::Please, just a minute, I can hardly breathe!::
Reluctantly, nervously, he slowed and stopped, looking around anxiously as he did so. The Others could come out any moment. Lady Sphiridon had told him that; they weren't gone, not really, just hiding. And if they knew he was here.... More than anything, he didn't want Lament and Yula to have to face them. Some of the Others were kind or quiet or at least not dangerous, like Pradhan or Harlequin or the child no one cared about enough to name, but the rest of them....
Yula fell against the wall, panting, and Lament actually went down to his belly on the cold, stone floor, tongue hanging out in a very canine fashion. ::You sure can go fast when you want to!:: he commented silently, rather than trying to speak around breathlessness. Yula nodded agreement with something like admiration.
"If you knew the Others-- you would, too," he managed back, leaning over with his hands on his knees to catch his own breath.
"What-- are the Others?" Yula asked. "You've never-- mentioned them before."
Lament, thankfully, took over the explanation. ::They're other people who live here-- sort of. They're all different, and there's a bunch of them, and a lot of them are really mean. They're also what comes out when he's dreaming but his body's still walking around.::
"You mean-- oh, gods." Yula looked vaguely ill, and Vagrant-- Nightling-- Karthekeyan?-- remembered the most obvious experience she had, had with those who "came out".
"Yes," he said succinctly. That hadn't been a particularly pleasant experience for him, either, trapped in a room with six or seven Others, all pushing him around with their own personal kinds of mercilessness. Tavarez told him later what it had been like for them, but he still thought it had been worse for him. At least Tavarez had managed to hold him down, or that might not have been the case.
"Can we get moving again?" he asked nervously, neck prickling as if he were already being watched. "Are you two rested up now?"
"Just don't go quite so fast," Lament requested tiredly. "I keep having to hunch funny in here, so it's hard to run...."
And he did. He walked-- walked!-- after that. He walked quickly, but it was hard enough not to break into a run again, for every instinct told him to get out of the caves as quickly as he could. He kept to the smaller tunnels intentionally, at least in places where he was familiar enough with the route to do so. He did know where all the large caverns were, and the underground river, so he could at least avoid those places. The only one they couldn't avoid was the first one, opening to the world outside, but as they neared it, he couldn't help but start to relax. They were almost away, almost free, almost safe.
He'd been so relieved that they hadn't run into any trouble that he nearly ran into it, literally, when it did arrive. He rounded the bend in the tunnel which turned into the last cave, where the sunlight poured in, and Lament had to grab him by the tunic to keep him from charging headlong into a small crowd blocking the way through. He stared, for a moment blank of thought, at the largest collection of Others he'd ever seen, all staring fixedly back at him, some menacingly, some nervously, and some without any expression at all. They made two groups, with one narrow path between them-- at which point Misha-Anju stood, smiling with smug satisfaction at the sight of him.
That was when he started trembling. Her expression did not bode well for him-- or the other two.
"Look who finally came back," Misha-anju purred. "And who is leaving again with such haste! You'd think you didn't want to see anyone but that shriveled old fox in there."
"We don't," Yula said defiantly from somewhere behind him.
Misha-anju and the Others completely ignored Yula, and Vagrant-- or Nightling, or Karthekeyan, or whatever his name was now-- could sense Yula bristling behind him at the obvious snub. "Where do you think you're running off to so swiftly, hmm?"
Rather than let Yula answer again, and quite possible get Misha-anju's unpredictable attention, he answered quickly: "Anywhere. We don't mean to stay."
"What if I want you to stay?" the fickle Other pouted.
"Then-- I'm sorry." He was always apologizing for something, with the Others, it seemed....
"That's not good enough," Misha-anju growled with her usual lightning-swift change of mood, and started advancing. Nightling-- Vagrant, Karthekeyan, whatever-- took a single step back, bumping into Lament's chest before he could get any farther. But, to his surprise, none of the Others moved an inch, doing nothing but watching-- and weeping, in Pradhan's case, or bouncing from foot to foot, in Harlequin's case. Only Misha-Anju moved, and, compared to the stationary mass of Others and with Lament and Yula at his back, that didn't seem as scary.
She didn't seem disturbed by her lack of support, or his presence of it-- either that or she just didn't notice. Rather, she stalked right up to him and grabbed his wrist. He tried to yank back and away, skin crawling at her touch, and Lament let out a low growl, startling both of them. Even Lament seemed a little startled, himself.
Misha-anju, as if finally realizing she stood alone before her prey, glared briefly behind her. "Help me!" she commanded.
Not a one moved.
Emboldened, Vagrant-- Karthekeyan-- shook her off, shocked at how easy it was to break her grip. She staggered back, and he took his chance to dart through the opening between the two ranks of Others. Not a one moved to stop him, but they did turn to watch him go with eerie synchronism. Lament and Yula followed, perhaps not as quickly, and Misha-anju's screech of fury was cut short with the sound of a fist hitting flesh. He didn't turn around to see what it was. He didn't even stop when he caught the edge of the ledge; like he had before, he just leapt off, and almost immediately felt wind catch wings that hadn't been there a moment before. Like he'd done before, as well, to escape....
Lament landed next to him on the ground, breathing hard and clutching a hare-formed Yula and her harp. "Can we go home now?" he panted, looking anxiously back over his shoulder. Nightling-- Karthekeyan-- did the same, fully expecting a furious Misha-anju to come charging down the slopes.
Yula shifted and scrambled over to where they'd hidden it, while Vagrant-- Karthekeyan-- climbed up onto his bond's back, not bothering to change back. "Yes, let's," he agreed, clinging there and trembling. There was a single figure standing on the ledge, staring down at them, and he thought he could recognize the coppery hair and flowing black tunic even from so far away.
They vanished to the sound of as another furious scream from Misha-anju echoing down from the caves, and it didn't seem like a moment too soon.
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