I am Nyx. I am night. I am the finite definition.
But something is wrong. Different. Where is the pain of birth? The transitory agony that invades and renders me whole?
[She stops and wonders why she–]
“Speaks.” I touch a hand to my lips, my eyes fluttering. “I spoke!” Groggily I shove at the lap I lay in, my body feeling odd and uncertain. I manage with some difficulty to push myself upright. It’s like my limbs are in rebellion, and I lurch forward, giggling at the funny feeling in my head. “I’m speaking!” I exclaim to my knees.
“That you are, kitten.”
I twist around, peeking through my mane to see the candle lit face of the woman warrior.
She looks at me, her eyes like reflective pools, and smiles. “I take it yer feeling better?”
[She takes a long time to answer. Words mash and tumble in her head. She wants to say–]
“They’re MY words,”
“They taste different,” I whisper.
“What tastes different?” The warrior is looking at me, frowning a little. She seems drowsy, leaning her head back onto the wall behind her as she gazes down her nose.
I only shake my head. The feel of my bare skin (wait, what?) brushing along the inside of my gambeson feels horrid. I grimace and pull at my collar, looking down. I tingle. I go to scratch my collarbone, but pause as my hand (hand?) comes into view. I frown at it. Clench it. Give it a nip with my teeth and feel not sharp canines, but dull flat tipped things scrape against my skin. (it’s…mine.)
“You okay, Nyx?”
The warrior woman is looking at me again. I hear her sit forward, and she places a hand on my shoulder. I look at it, see the bandage that covers it. Then look at her apprehensively. What do I say to her? She is my companion in dreams, why not in my reality? Why do I hesitate under the feel of her touch?
[Because it is the first time.]
My bewilderment is lined with a feeling of disorientation. The world does not smell right, the world does not look right, the world does not sound right. I take a deep breath, willing my senses to work, but at most I can only pick up the basic scents–finer details eluding me.
Nevertheless, I feel this place is foul.
The warrior is still looking at me, waiting for an answer.
I nod at her.
She takes my chin and turns my face softly so that I look at her full on. “It’s just that you keep staring at your hand. You keep staring at it like it’s new to you.” She sounds uncertain.
“…It’s just this place.” I say quietly. The words feel thick in my mouth. They come with little effort, but they are foreign to me. This is not my language.
The woman smiles sardonically. “You know…sometimes I look at my hand the same way. I mean, I see that it is attached to my arm, and I can FEEL it…but sometimes I just can’t get my head around the fact that its MY hand…Have you ever had one of those moments? Before, I mean, when things were normal?”
I look at my hand again, and flex it slowly. The fingers seem long and grotesque. Then I furrow my brow and purse my lips. “No.” I answer firmly.
I don’t understand what is going on. I am not as myself. My skin is bare, my face feels flat and wide, my shoulders feel awkwardly placed, and my legs are these silly twigs, with my feet stuck in what I know to be boots, but which I don’t inherently get. Aelurus, why would anyone want to wear boots?
The world I see is not my world…it is wavering and smoldering. I try to breathe in deep again, but the stench of sweat and illness makes me gag and I cover a hand over my face and try not to think of the length of my fingers, the wet palm that presses against my fat lips–
I tense up at the voice in my head. It echoes from deep down, from a place that tastes of my sanctuary. This voice (my voice) is using the words I so awkwardly express myself with. “I wasn’t speaking to you!” I snap.
The warrior blinks at me. “Well apparently not.”
“These words were never yours to begin with!” I hiss. “If anyone is the thief, you are.” I try to shift to my hands and knees–sitting on my tailbone feels wrong–but find my face planting into the ground for all my efforts. The Other roars.
“Stop accusing me! I don’t know what happened!” I shout lividly. There are some complaining groans from the others in the room, and the warrior jerks me back into her lap by the back of my gambeson. I give a surprise mewl, freezing in fear of what my punishment would be for making her angry.
“Quiet,” she whispers sharply, her breath a hot tickle at my ear. “I promised Sedwick we would bother no one.”
A derisive snort in my head. I can feel The Other pacing…four paws, claws lightly clicking on the floor of my mind. (what is this?)
Her anxiety (my anxiety) is getting to me. I squirm in the warrior’s lap, feeling confined and hot.
“What is going on with you, Nyx?” I hear her snap. She lets me go and I slide to the floor, panting a little. I am curled, uncomfortably so, with my chin to my chest, my shoulder blades digging into the adjacent wall, and my legs parallel to my companion’s. My hair is a damp mess, my eyes rolling around in their sockets as I try to sort out my thoughts. Eventually my gaze falls to a fat fly buzzing near my knees. It scuttles backwards haltingly, like it’s confused.
I stare at it for a full minute before blowing it with one powerful puff. The thing flips to its back, the legs squiggling in the air dazedly.
“Not even the fly can make sense of itself,” I murmur. Then I start to giggle.
[Then she realizes she’s giggling.]
And I begin to laugh.
(because this is impossible)
[Then she notices that Elmiryn–Elle–The Warrior, is looking at her like she’s turned a funny color.]
Then I laugh harder, and have to bite down hard on my lower lip to contain the noise. The warrior’s skin, Elle’s skin, Elmiryn’s skin, is painted the color of her soul, the way I am dressed in the skin of my dreams.
And I just think that’s hilarious.
I hear the woman shift next to me, and a second later her shadowy form is hovering over my shaking figure. She seems a little unsteady, and I wonder for a moment if she will fall.
“Hey…Nyx. Relax. Shh…don’t go crazy on me…” She says quietly, stroking the sweaty strands of hair away from my face.
My mind tickles with a memory I hardly recognize, and I look at her. “But…the humor,” I say through a smile. “I found it.”
“What do you think is so funny?”
I point at the fly, then grin. It’s still on its back. Elmiryn looks at it, then back at me with a quirked eyebrow. “The fly?”
“It seems weak,” she remarks.
I shake my head. “Confused.” I blow at the bug again, using more force than necessary, and the thing is pinned to my leg from the force of the blown air, but then manages to scramble to its feet again. I make like I’m going to smash it, but stop, palm literally close enough to feel its wings, then pull my hand away. The fly hadn’t moved.
“It’s confused,” I say again.
Elmiryn gave a nod and sat back, this time so that her back was against the same wall I was against. “Well maybe you can keep it as a pet,” Then she snickers and covers her face with her bandaged hand.
I twist around and look at her. In my head, I sift through piles of unusual words. One word jumps out in particular.
“Anacreontic.” I say it slowly, carefully.
The warrior looks down at me, sleepy-eyed again. This annoys me. “Hmm…?”
“Don’t sleep!” I snap, clumsily pushing myself up.
“I’m not sleeping, just closing my–”
I nip her on the shoulder.
“Ow!” She looks at me in bewilderment. “Did’joo jes’ bite me!?” she says hurriedly.
“Don’t sleep!” I say again, ducking a little as the weight of her gaze presses down on me. I’m reminded of the time I bit my mother’s tail, because she stopped grooming me.
“Nyx, I think YOU need to sleep.”
I shake my head, putting my whole upper body into the action, then giggle again when I have to steady myself.
Elmiryn crosses her arms and frowns, as if thinking. “Hey…what does…anack…anock…anickry…oh damn, what was the word you said earlier?” She looks at me squinty-eyed.
I grin, excited that I know the answer. “A-nack-er…er….” I blink.
[You guessed it.]
“I forgot.” I say sheepishly.
( i can’t remember ever being sheepish about anything)
Downstairs, the ceiling is higher and there are support beams disrupting my line of vision to the other side of the room. The bar is covered with empty bottles, candles, and bruised fruit. The bedrolls and the blankets and the pillows have vanished. Some of the citizens are still inside, passing the time conversing in low tones, reading, or playing a game of some sort. Outside, beyond the wavery views of the windows, I see that some children are playing near the inn, and some adults are standing there watching them.
I listen as Elmiryn and some young-something with ruddy hair and big dark eyes argue. The adolescent (can’t be more than that) wants to join her to see the river guardian. He’s terribly short, dressed in mismatched chainmail, and keeps fiddling with his over-sized sword belt.
Sedwick joins in. He’s trying to persuade the boy to stay. I pick up a name. Baldwin.
I sit quiet to the side, nursing a jug of mead because my inebriation was fading and somehow I got the sense that the people around me wanted me dead.
A-quarter-of-a-jug and one-face-plant later I see Elmiryn standing over me with a critical expression. At some point I guess I tried to stand again only to find that moving in this form requires a lot more practice and a little more sobriety. The floor feels comfortable though. And I see that underneath the bar children have stuck candy there.
Lovely. Snacks for later.
“Nyx, I had you drink a bit to numb your discomfort and to keep your morale up. The suns are well over the horizon now. You shouldn’t need anymore!” She stoops to take the jug.
I only hug it closer to my chest and bare my teeth, glowering at her.
“Your friend doesn’t seem quite right,” Sedwick says, appearing next to Elmiryn. “Perhaps she should stay?”
“I can go in her place!” Baldwin says. I agree with him.
Elmiryn, to my dismay, shakes her head as she straightens again. “She has to be with me.”
“But why?“I whine. “This boy looks far more capable than I am! Let him go in my place!”
Elmiryn looks at me as if I slapped her.
(i’m sorry. i’m…scared)
“But she WON’T be by herself–” I begin to say, touching a hand to my head.
I wince and grip my head. The jug slips from my hands and spills to the floor. Heat flashes across my skin, I can hear The Other growling. I slowly rise to my feet, recalling how Elmiryn had to half-carry me down the steps because I felt so unfamiliar with my limbs. I steady myself, mead dripping off the ends of my hair on one side, and look up.
“I’m sorry,” I say, looking at the warrior. The words fit better in my mouth, but my joints burn and ache. “I wasn’t thinking clearly. Don’t worry, I’ll be with you, Elle. I won’t desert you.”
Sedwick and the adolescent stare at me, mouths agape. The young one has even taken a step back.
Elmiryn frowns and cups my face with both hands. “Nyx. What’s wrong with you?”
I frown at her. “What?”
“Your face…it’s gone all cat.”
From “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, by Friedrich Nietzsche. First published in Germany by Ernst Schmeitzner, 1883–1885. [↩]