“Bob? Hello?” Asra poked his cheek.
It had been a few minutes since he passed out, and still hadn’t woken up. After a few more pokes Asra frowned, wondering why he was in such a rush but now he was basically sleeping. Surely sleeping wasn’t his top priority? Nevertheless, her pokes became more relentless. But a tension filled the air.
The throne shifted, and Asra stepped back from Jay as the skeletons all went on guard. She froze, wondering if she had crossed a line with all her poking—but they pointed their swords towards Hegatha’s shack.
Asra raised a brow, equally wondering what had put the skeletons on high alert, and glad that her pokes hadn’t made her an enemy of the undead. However she wasn’t going to wait around and find out.
“Bob, we need to move.” Asra pinched his hand, but froze again, stepping backwards from Jay, though it wasn’t the skeletons causing her to pause her assault on his skin. The shadowy swamp became brighter.
Across the swamp, a shaft of sunlight light gleamed, unimpeded by the fog and shimmering on the water. Asra’s eyes widened as more light broke through. She jumped over to the blanket, wrapping it tightly around her body and covering her head just before a gleam of light landed on the throne. The gloomy darkness disappeared completely, and the suffocating thick fog gave way to a less-suffocating stale air.
“What did you do?” Asra murmured, but the skeletons holding the throne suddenly shifted, pointing the throne directly toward the old rotting shack. The skeletons didn’t like it either.
Again the throne shifted as a deep boom resounded through the earth and a light appeared from the soil, a wave of red energy surged up through the dirt. The red energy carried its own killing intent, and the sight of it caused a cold fear to trail over Asra’s skin. There was something sinister in the energy, more than killing intent, but emotions of hunger and authority. Even as a vampire she felt its chill.
Asra responded instantly, her natural instincts to hide from sunlight moved her muscles on its own and closed herself within the noon-leather blanket. The magic-blocking material was the best place she could possibly be. But to her own surprise, there was another instinct at play which drove her closer to Jay, the one who protected her all this time. She wouldn’t let it harm him either.
The thick light passed harmlessly over the skeletons and as it went around the noon-leather it warped like a bubble being squished from one side as it wrapped around. Its presence was suffocating, and she felt like it wanted to cut her off from the world completely, detaching all things and leaving her forever alone. She was close enough to Jay to protect his body, but even after this he didn’t awaken. The throne shifted again, but this time, it wasn’t because of the skeletons.
A shudder spread through the floating island, sending ripples and smaller waves that stirred up the swamp.
As the red energy spread through the swamp all sorts of creatures left their mud burrows and fled. Waves of larger slumbering monsters sped through the waters, all of them ignoring their painful hunger as they made every effort to get away, sliding and clambering over one another. Carnivorous plants curled up and closed their hatches, poisonous flowers and leaves closed and fell off. For once, their next meal was not their top priority. Every instinct was telling them to flee.
Asra’s face was cloaked in the blanket. The red wave had passed, but it wasn’t the end. If anything, it was just a taste.
An even stronger overwhelming pressure pushed on her back, cold and sinister as it wrapped itself across her body more tightly than the blanket, and sank deep into her inner being. Its terror felt like a rope around her neck, inching itself tighter with each passing second.
She sank to her knees, her hands trembling. She didn’t know what to do, what she could do against a threat she couldn’t even see.
She fought her body to take the slightest peek, but she couldn’t bear to turn around. Every sense and muscle in her body was telling her to curl up into a ball and die—certainly not to look back. But against all emotions, she logically made plans, and put them into action, step by harrowing step.
She took out the blood compass and peered into its smooth surface, using it like a mirror to catch a glimpse, and she dropped it as soon as she caught sight of it.
A spire of nothing. It wasn’t merely a black shadow, it was void. All-consuming, empty and endless. And she could feel its hunger. It wanted her to be a part of it, to marvel at its endless majesty.
Asra snapped her head down and clutched her body, trying to make herself as small as she could. She didn’t want to utter a word, but the skeletons didn’t move. The throne didn’t even shake—the skeletons sensed threat, but not fear. They were as happy being here as anywhere else. Asra found it hard to breathe in its presence, but against her own sanity, she called out from the blanket.
“We” She took a deep breath, “Need to move.” She whispered, but the skeletons didn’t respond.
Asra peaked up at Jay. Still passed out, though his hairs stood on end. The island tilted, and the shoreline moved closer.
“It’s sinking. Red, if you don’t want Bob to drown we have to move.” She said. 𝗯𝐞𝐝𝗻𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗹.𝐜𝗼𝗺
Red’s neck creaked as it surveyed their surroundings. Jay had made Asra their navigator after all. Blue’s bones began to twist and creak too as the skeletons had a silent dialogue. The water crept upwards and reached the feet of the skeletons. Logic was on Asra’s side, and it seemed that the skeletons were at least sensitive to that.
“The island’s sinking. He’ll die if we don’t leave.” Asra repeated, her voice filled with desperation as she called from within the blanket.
Finally the sweetest sound she’d ever heard came to her ears. The bones of all the skeletons began to rattle.
They accepted my order. She thought, quietly breathing a sigh of relief as the throne turned, wobbled, and began a swift march to the bone bridge Jay had laid down.
Asra’s body still trembled. She couldn’t bear to peek out from under the blanket. The fear radiating from the black spire was still pressing on her, and leaving its presence felt like she was in defiance of a king, as if she’d spit on a royal’s face while their guards held their swords at her neck. Even if the sunlight was burning her to ashes she doubted she would be able to move, and could only rely on Jay’s skeletons.
After crossing the bridge, she finally lifted herself and huddled near Jay’s legs, a hand on his knee.
“Bob, wake up. By my hold, I command it.” She said, and her vampiric eyes glowed. But Jay’s eyes remained closed.
Tears began to well in her eyes, though she didn’t know why. He was just a husk, a useful tool. Her captive and food. How could he be anything more than that? But she wanted nothing more than for him to awaken. He hadn’t just been all those things, he had been more. Not once did he fear her, and even talked to her casually as an equal. It was oddly refreshing.
“Please.” Asra whispered.
Jay’s consciousness was lost, his mind separated. Endless darkness engulfed him. He looked down to see that he had no body or hands, then wondered which way ‘down’ was. He no longer felt a connection to his body, or to the world.
Yet something about the detachment was so freeing. He knew he had to escape, but he wondered if he wanted to return at all; there was little desire to do anything but rest there, wherever ‘there’ was. All he had was his thoughts, painful thoughts of struggle and loneliness, but the emotions from them were dulled and already disappearing. But something else became more tangible, something holding his very soul, a strength that lay deeper.
The words or the immortal book were with him, inscribed on his inner being and holding onto him, keeping his mind in a sense of peace, and perhaps, even love. How could words love him? It was odd, but he accepted them. They were a shield against the emptiness, a refreshing river overflowing with cooling waters, a light that could not be hidden as they hemmed in his form, stopping it from dissipating into nothingness.
Woes of comfort, escaping the circles, satisfaction and wisdom, rejecting truth for an endless maze of lies. There dwells a monster living in all of us, and to live we walk the endless dance between chaos and order. Jay thought, remembering each lesson. He realized that once he left his body, these lessons had become his only possessions, and now, his only treasures, guarding his soul. He knew some of them urged him to continue, but ultimately it was his choice.
Jay, and Lannister, were both lost. One in a void of darkness, the other in grief; though there was little difference. Each was as empty as the other, and nothing the world offered could satisfy the endless void they both felt.
All the prodding from Asra wouldn’t bring Jay back, and all the gentle nudges from Estra wouldn’t be felt by Lannister. Even though she was at his side, they were worlds apart. But even in the darkness of grief, if only one would only look up and open their eyes to search, there remains a flicker of hope, a faint glimmer of warm light calling us home. Do we dare follow it?
* * *
~End of Book One~