I can feel my lungs breathing evenly and smoothly as I panic and heave. My feet stride forward slowly in the still falling snow even though I’m commanding my heels to gouge and drag through the ground. But half of that’s just me banging and screaming on a window made of myself, no points for guessing which half. HA! Who’s guessing- LET ME OUT.
Brain walks at this torturous and leisurely pace. Bastard knows this is upsetting me too, takes some sort of… delight from it. It’s like a teacher getting ready to flaunt their superior knowledge to a stupid student.
Gooooodsdamnit- New plan! Have to get busy finding my happy place.
He took control because I got wound up tighter than a human-lamia couple on a full moon, so maybe if I feel the opposite way… Or is it that he has to be stressed? … Or does he have to be happy? … … Don’tthinkaboutwhatmakeshimhappydon’tthinkaboutwhatmakeshimhappy-
“Stabbystabbystabbystabby- I can’t believe I’m still narrating my own thoughts and feelings. Forget it all, I’m about to move on with my life.”
Why? Why?! I have peace here, no one chasing me, a stable living space, nice things- I can actually say when was the last time I attended a party or a festival! PartIES and festivalS even! I can be more than just sane, I can be h-
“Stop repeating myself. Instead of arguing against why I should close myself off, think about what the consequences are for staying close to others.
“Charlotte Dodd. The Open Sky tribe. Oartinal. Tocrod and her assistants. Faux Fox and his bouncing traveling stick. The fucking inquisitors. It’s always one of three stories, each just as predictably written as the other.
“The world is just an enormously fucked up play, featuring the monsters with their “don’t go”s, the Church and their “patch him up and bring him back tomorrow”s, and the independent guys with their “want to run with me”s, all trying to make me stay. And what role would I have played according to the scripts? A slave, a test subject, or a criminal.”
“Shut it. The script this time is with a monster, so I know the ending is slavery. I’m the only actor who’s ever gone off-script and ran every time before the finales, and godsdamnitall is the end always so fucking predictable. Why do I expect this time to be any different?”
Do you remember what our last record for staying out of the hands of the Church’s cells and monsters’ beds was? One month. And that was with constant dodging of patrols, slipping into dark alleyways, and holding my breath under a river of mud. And how long have we been here? Little over eight months, living in a single location with nice things we couldn’t even dream of having before (like chairs and fresh socks).
“It doesn’t matter how long the new record is, only when it ends. That end is about to come rushing at me at full speed, probably tackling me onto a bed and ripping my pants off, forgetting the effect she has on me before making my head explode. That last bit with the dying is the only part not according to the script.”
What script? Palamina is not the typica-
“The script that every monster follows even if they don’t realize it, a set of lines and action cues which are ingrained in their very beings. A script that is ESPECIALLY apparent if someone survives the first ten seconds of contact and acts friendly towards them at any damned time. Have I been paying ANY attention at all in the past few years?”
“Let me make this absolutely clear. It was okay when that lilim just wrote letters from far, far away and I could just string her along. IT IS NOT OKAY TO LET HER INDIRECTLY MARK ME AS HER’S AND HELP HER GET IN HUGGING RANGE OF ME.
“… Damn, it’s cold. Now how close am I to the plateau?”
We’re less than fifty feet away from the hunk of crystal that used to be home and NOW you think about that? Should have at least brought the big coat before you left… … How likely is it that she didn’t do the ritual at all and just created crystals for fun?
“And why would I want that to be the case?”
Well personally I want to see you get stopped dead from a suddenly blood-bloated skull. Well maybe not DEAD-dead, but-
“I get it. Plus I’ve made a very deadly point… I should have waited for someone else to check that-”
“New hole in the back of the cave. Aw damnit.”
Ha HA! It has to be her! And we’re so damn close that this means it worked! It worked! … And I’m not in control… Aw damn, it worked.
“Yep! In a few minutes, I’ll be back on the road again and I can make new friends and enemies. Keep my life fresh and not keeping dangerously deep connections with humans who would turn me over to the Church or monsters that would try to rape me.”
Pricking myself upon a crystal and holding my finger there had the intended effect, restoring my strength for as long as I held contact. Didn’t need too much though. Just enough to make an exit to crawl out of. A bit crude and dangerous, but thankfully the explosion had not jolted the crystals into shattering and flooding the cave like sand.
I jump down twenty feet, from the highest point on the plateau that isn’t smothered in crystal, wings wobbling and fluttering more than they should be. I know the cold wind and snow should be biting, but it’s sheer child’s play to insulate myself with a sliver of magic despite my weakened state. Yet, I’d rather not use too much energy right now, not even to dye my hair my preferred shade of pink again. I’m refreshed physically, but a break would still be very much welcome.
Ahhh, I wonder about the future. John needs to see an apothecary or a doctor. How should I change the governing of my realm? I’m certainly not about to hide myself away anymore. What should we research in the future? John’s condition? Simplifying or finding alternatives to the ritual? The site needs to be cleaned up in case I need to do the dance again, now that I think about it. … I’d rather not have that experience a second time though. All that to accomplish before my aura comes back in full force, perhaps in a century or so? … … Or maybe all I need is to spend a week sitting in the town square, watching my people pass by, talking with them, savouring a little bread and water, and every now and then chatting with him for as long as he can stay… Yes. Yes, that first.
The snow has made a fine thin blanket on the ground and is still falling. I take a few tentative steps in no direction in particular. I’m not sure what exactly to do with myself right now. True, the ritual succeeded and it did not blow up in my face. I certainly no longer feel the same amount of demonic energy as I used to. But as of yet, there is no -krnch- proof that my presence -krnch- will make LESS monsters -Krnch- and humans fall to -Krnch- ecstasy in my presenc- -Krnch.-
Someone has been creeping up on me from my right, a hint of brown is in the corner of my eye. But it’s the lack of noise that startles me more. No sudden moans, no drawn-out groans, no panting pleas for release, no slurred thanks for arousing their loins…
The ritual worked! I can throw caution to the wind and do everything I’ve wanted to do for the past century! All our effort, all our work has come to fruition! As I turn, I wonder who is bearing witness to my renewa- John! It can’t be anyone else, what other man could be here so quickly? I’m glad it’s him, I’m really glad it’s him.
With less than ten feet of freezing air and still falling snow between us, I look upon him for the first time and the atmosphere suddenly becomes… heavy. He stands like a dignified man, both hands behind his back and chest forward. The pose is strange to me, seemingly at odds with his flippant writing style. He doesn’t seem as excited as I am or perhaps he is waiting for me to make the first move. … It’s unbelievable, perhaps, the success I mean. We anticipated it, made some rough plans on what to do afterwards, but now that the moment is here… Well, I suppose we’re speechless.
The excitement in me, the girl with too many honeyed sweets in her system, wants to get out, but I struggle to keep her down. We should celebrate, have some fun, but the moment just doesn’t seem right for that.
Still, I finally get to drink in the looks of my closest friend. From top to bottom, he has thick brown hair lying flat, but partially unkempt around the left. His face is a bit pale and gaunt, likely from his illness, and covered in small unshaven hairs. Thin lips that are as straight as a line and his roundish-almond shaped eyes are a surprisingly dark green, like pine trees in the shade. He’s actually shorter than I am, though not by much, coming up to the middle of my forehead. Even though he’s fully covered, his clothing looks a bit thin for the weather. The thickest thing on him are his boots and following that is a vest that looks more casual than functional. They hang a bit loosely, likely from weight loss from vomiting so often. If he were at full health though, I imagine he’d look a bit wide but fighting fit. … … Finally. This is John up close. He’s just standing there, not saying a word, staring like a statue like he’s waiting for me to move first. It’s starting to get unnerv-
Ah. I’d barely noticed since they look so different, but his jaw isn’t dislocated nor are his ears hanging unnaturally low. The little girl in me giggles at this dumb little realization. An involuntary and very loud giggle escapes my physical form, as does a progressive upward curling of the corners of my mout- Oh, forget the formality! I’m happy! Excited! Joyful! ECSTATIC! I realize I’m laughing, laughing a high-
-Pitched girlish sound flows around us. I don’t know if it’s because of her monsterness or whatever, but it’s like listening to bells. There’s nothing but joy in there as she bounces up and down on her left foot, then her right, lifting her left, then right, left, right- Come on, can you really ruin this scene? Look at her river of white hair waving about-
With grotesque black horns large and smooth enough to gore a man straight through if they weren’t wrapping around her forehead.
Eyes that could almost fit almonds in them and small lips sparkling red with laughter-
Like glowing coals and no doubt burning with lust.
Pink, almost white skin JUST visible against the snow-
That the temptress tries to expose more of with a deliberate pattern of tears in her ill-fitting top.
Large wings folded inward and partially hiding her thighs-
Either pair bearing the threat of locking me between them.
Dancing in the snow with long, thin legs in almost bare feet. Can’t remember those black what-were-those-called wrapping around her heels-
Stirrup pants, they were the new thing among noblewomen where we were hiding a year ago, she’s cut off the thigh cloth though and wrapped her calves in some loose sleeve things. Apparently in addition to being the monster to end all monsters (aside from the Demon Lord), she doesn’t wear proper pants. Are those even pants around her hips? She’s cut them so short that her butt is almost- wait, that isn’t the point here!
For the love of the gods, listen to myself! It takes but a glance to be enticed by a lilim if what I’ve read in the past is true and I’ve been STARING at her!
Well I’m just observing, you’re being angry, so clearly we’re not falling head over heels in boot-licking ‘love.’ She’s probably got her energy under control, so just stop planning a counterattack and we can-
Or maybe she’s weakened! A once in a lifetime opportunity. Have to get her when she least suspects it. That lilim WILL try to rape me once she realizes I’m not falling for her, so she has to get close and that’s when this knife behind me goes shooting up straight up her insi- WHUMP!
A A AAA AAA ! HHHH
AA A AA AAA A ! HH HH
AA AAA A ! HH !!
AA HHHAHHHHHH !!
III H H ! !!
III H H ! !!
III ! !!
GODSDAMNIT, SHE FUCKING TACKLED ME-
HA HA! Good!! Now enjoy the flight! I know I am!
Oh gods, I’m heading for her bed aren’t I? AREN’T I?!
Nah, nah, we’re just pinned in her arms and flying around in a yarn ball of a pattern. It’s a celebration! We’re pressed so tight together and hair keeps whipping around my eyes, kind of annoying. Whatever! Enjoying the moment now and YOU. CAN’T. STOP MEEEEEE.
NO! I still have a chance to turn this around. I still have the knife. Can’t move enough-
Everything’s wonderful now! No more hiding! No more second-hand accounts of festivals! Now I can actually attend what I plan! Today will be a new national holiday with dancing, singing, sweets, and toys! Oh, let’s not get carried away. Except I already have and see no need to stop spiralling through the air with a friend and laughing my thanks to his face. Or maybe he can’t hear me at all, and I’m just scaring him now. Surely not. Still, we have to talk about the future.
Slowly, I ease into an upright position in-flight. My laughter fades, but my mouth refuses to turn to any position except smiling. Something that falters once I get a good look at John. His eyes are wide, and the cold air from his breathing is coming out in quick puffs of fear. If it’s from the temperature, the flight, both, or something else, calming him should be my priority. … Or maybe at least making sure he heard my thanks.
… Just one more time.
… … I don’t think I can do it enough times though.
To my discomfort, he never loses that petrified look during our slow descent. I loosen my grip as we land, sliding my hands up to his shoulders. John’s reaction was to shiver all the way through, unmistakably in fear. His eyes swivel up and down, but his head remains locked in place, scanning me like a mouse waiting for a cat’s next move. Oh, John. Surely after all we’ve done, you know I mean you know harm? I’d just like to finally show my gratitude properly.
Her eyes are molesting me. Also her hands.
She’s waiting for US to celebrate, not just her. The feelings should be mutual (well, actually it is but damn you, brain).
I don’t understand. That lilim should be forcing the mutualness by now.
That’s why you haven’t attacked her yet?
Up to something, but what?
Nothing at all. Just nothing at all.
A lie. It can’t be anything else, can it?
Let go of the knife.
John’s expression finally changes from fear to something between confusion and surprise. A cocked eyebrow, a slight tightening of his still wide eyes, lips parting to finally form words.
I’m still too excited to wait.
My face shoots forward to meet his.
Brain sputters silently, panicking and turning desperate. Even as he tries to pull back from Palamina’s puckered lips, the body we’re sharing is being dragged forward by her arms. I can still feel the knife’s handle and the death grip on it.
Brain throws his arm wide as she gets closer.
Godsdamnit… Goodbye, Malida. Goodbye, Tom. Goodbye, Jessica, Cadence, Candice, Malory, Sari, Kitty, Danielle, everyone… Goodbye, Palamina… Hope you all don’t try to kill me next time we meet.
I lean in and-
Once on each cheek. The first time, John gives a little jump. I don’t think he was expecting that at all. The strangled gasp he gives when I suddenly wrap my arms around his neck and crush him against me implies the same.
He’s absolutely frozen in place. If his shivering breathes weren’t brushing my shoulder, I’d have thought him literally dead on his feet. Perhaps his expectations were more conventional? That I would do something more monster-like in my excitement?
“John.” Another jump as I whisper in his ear. “I will never do anything to endanger our friendship or your life. Please remember that.”
Oh, Palamina. If only I was in control… Now let’s see that knife come down so I can start crying.
…… I’m waiting.
… … … You there?
… … … … Huh.
Bastard’s still in control, but there’s no response. A low thrumming noise is what he’s been reduced to in his disbelief of ‘that lilim’ going ‘off-script.’ … Alright!
This isn’t ideal, but a lot better than stabbing her in the back. I’m actually really surprised too that Palamina took such a chaste action. It’s hard to let go of certain expectations of monsters in a world like this, and her excitement had caused them to crawl up like slugs in my mind. Her kisses really worried me for more than one reason.
Suddenly, I can feel the knife drop out of my hand, not just be aware of, but feel. My body goes limp before I scramble to assert my control again, forcing Palamina to squeak in surprise and backpedal more than a little in my fall forward. With one big step forward and my arms locking hand-over-hand around her back, I steady myself. We look a little strange, both of us bowing and hugging at the same time.
Slowly, we walk forward until we’re both upright, sheepishly looking each other in the eyes when we’re done.
Well, no sense wasting any time. Palamina’s free to do as she pleases and brain is in a coma, TWO events worth celebrating.
I give a broad smile and shift my hands down to her waist and-
“Three cheers for you!
AY! AY! AY!”
OR OR OR
“Hip, hip. HO Hip, hip. HO Hip, hip. HO
“AhhhahAHAHA! (Don’t) Put me down, John! (Don’t) Put me down!”
It’s like the sun has risen on his face as he suddenly spins my shrilly giggling self around in the air. My smaller wings flutter and bump his arms as my bigger pair flaps erratically in the excitement, forcing him to stand on the balls of his feet to keep holding me.
On the last hurrah, he drags me down, hands still holding my waist. It’s difficult to will my wings to stop flapping as I push aside the hairs that managed to get in front of my face, still giggling as a deep and throaty laugh starts rising from him.
There’s something else going on that I’m not aware of I think. But really, spoiling this mood? Out of the question. I’ll ask later.
John pulls me into as deep a hug as I gave him a minute ago and in a low, accentless voice mutters, “Thank you for being my friend.”
Brain is noise now. He’s become nothing more than a strange, quiet hum. Gone into a coma of sorts from disbelief. Found sanity in Wonderland. Vegetable. I don’t think I’m rid of him entirely, but he’s gone for a while at least. Bastard might have even learned something from this whole thing.
Palamina is so much different in person than in her letters, though maybe that’s because of our recent success and the changes to her lifestyle it’s going to bring about. She’s excitable, attentive, and talks a lot about how she wants to adopt a pair of cats. I hadn’t expected her to not be an overly serious political figure given the way she writes. It’s a pleasant surprise.
After I went back to the cave I rented from Kitty to get the big coat (and shock her and all her friends with Palamina’s appearance), she locked her right hand in my left and refused to let go. Without the slightest hint of embarrassment, her explanation was that she really wanted to keep contact with someone after so long in isolation. I could only sputter as Kitty and all her forest friends snickered and whispered the obvious as we walked away. It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if we’re the friends we say we are or if brain’s theory on monsters following scripts has some weight to it.
… Fuck it.
Paranoia can go jump off a cliff, and I’m free to indulge a friend as much as I’d like, right?
It’s been half an hour now since we started the first of what I hope will be many, many leisurely strolls. All the way, I talked and John talked, back and forth, back and forth. Being able to do this without any sexual feelings (and his mysterious ailment seems to have cleared up completely) in the way, I couldn’t get enough of listening to him talk about his past, watching his face changing moods, or holding his not-quite-smooth-or-rough hand. I’d have settled for anyone to walk with like this, but because it’s him, my fruit farmer friend and confidant, it’s so much better.
“Ech.” John shakes his head with his eyes shut too tightly for a moment.
“John? Are you okay?”
“It’s nothing, it’s- Oh, it’s the border.”
“We’re past the border… Then- Then I have nothing to fear from my energy intake!”
“For now. Palamina, we need to research actually suppressing your aura or at least making that ritual easier to do.”
“That can wait. Your health is the new top priority, John. You seem well enough now, but I’m sending an apothecary or doctor to your home as soon as I can. Oh, your orchard! I’d nearly forgo-”
“No rush, it’s still winter. Besides, I can set up in one of the abandoned villages farther out-”
“Nonsense. Once the plateau is cleaned up and cleansed a few times for insurance, you can reclaim the soil there.”
“Yes, after winter… … Do you need to go back?”
“Not for a few hours yet. You want to do anything? The nearest village is fifteen minutes away.”
“Then… Let’s get something to eat while I make a real public appearance.”
“Lead the way, Palamina.”
“With me, John.”
And our fingers tighten.