5. 3 - Extract from Midnight Shadownight-Rogue's Journal
Slimy, disgusting, sticky, disgusting, filthy, disgusting: everything!
I wanted to rebuke Thomas, really chew his ear off with uncalled-for profanity and hurtful swearing - but the fear of opening my mouth and actually tasting the filth and muck of this crawl-space was just too much. Besides, I could yell at him as much as I wanted when we got out of here. If - if we got out of here. We slid forward on our stomachs, like worms in a hole, the cold wet mud sucking at our bodies as we moved. Muck clung to me - a particularly uncomely sensation - and it was caked to my face and soaked into my hair. And dark. When we had entered the crawl-space, it had been a bright and warm day - but it was as cold and dark as night in here. I tried to ignore the sickening crunch of possibly live insects beneath my palms as I moved.
“I see an openin'!” Thomas called ahead of me, his voice echoing through the enclosed space.
I didn't respond, but I was thinking I'd make an opening in him if he was joking. But when his boots kicked mud into my vision, gravity shifted and toad-shit filled my mouth and nostrils - my reflexive scream muffled to hoarse choking as I slip-slided down, down, down into the unknown.
We both flailed in water, blind and panicking. Or I was panicking, anyway, vomiting refuse from my lungs and blowing my nose - shouting swear-words all the while - doing everything I could to rid the stench and flavour of the bog from my senses. I felt Thomas's hands enclose my arms and had to resist the urge to punch him in the throat.
“Midnight,” he said, trying to calm me, “Midnight, Midnight!”
I writhed in his grasp, water splashing around me, “It's everywhere, goddammit! Everywhere!”
He had the nerve to laugh, “What is?”
“The flipping bog! It's in my nose, my mouth, my hair, my ears, in my bloody eyes - I can't see a thing! Holy Hell and High-”
“Alright, alright, let's not curse heaven,” Thomas said, splashing water on my face, “When ye do see all this, though, it's goin' t'spin your head right 'round.”
My vision cleared and the first thing I saw was Thomas.
Except... For a few seconds I couldn't recognise him.
I touched his face, smoothing out all the areas where wrinkles had been - should have been - with my fingers. His hair gleamed the gold it was born to be, the streaks of white shifting to match. And that age-old scar - that medal of shame I had left on his face all those years ago: I watched it close up, stitch together and then disappear. I looked at the pool I was standing in, the muck dripping off of me and joining the water in a clouded white stream.
But it was more than that.
I looked at my hands, I watched the small cuts and bruises I had gained recently recede in an instant into my natural tan, and my far more ancient scars and burns heal to match.
“I don't believe it...” I murmured, “I don't...” I looked at Thomas's younger face, “You... you found it.”
He smirked, “Ye sound surprised,” he said.
I splashed the water, “You found it! You found the Fountain of Youth! The Fountain of freaking Youth!” he held out his arms and I jumped on him with a hug. I heard a laugh escape him.
“Ye goin' t'drown me now?” he asked suggestively.
I held his shoulders and gave him a look, “Just let me admire you, please? For one second? Just take it? Please? Just once?”
Thomas chortled and scratched his head, “We need to drink the water as well, Midnight.”
I looked around, “But... all the dirt.”
“Trust me?” he smiled, “I'll go first, okay?”
“Wait,” I said, “Standing in this is one thing, but...”
“What ye see now, Midnight, is only temporary. It will last a few hours at most. The sealant is t'drink the water. A handful, nothing more.”
“A handful of poison can kill you.”
Thomas sighed, “We've come this far...”
I gazed at him searchingly. I didn't know what to say, I just stared at him for a while. Looking for a weakness, I guess, any indication at all that he would cave and give in. But it wasn't there. Not in that young face. The older one with the scar might have had a chink, but not this face. Was he even the same person anymore? I still felt like me.
“Okay,” I whispered, pressing a finger to his chest, “But don't you dare die on me, alright?”
“I don't plan on't,” he laughed, scooping up a handful of water and swallowing it down in one gulp.
He covered his mouth with both hands. He choked.
“Thomas?” I asked, wading closer to him.
He pushed me away with a hand and turned his back on me.
I heard him choke and gurgle, gagging as if he swallowed the water through his trachea.
“Thomas!” I grabbed him from behind.
He cried out and smacked me away. I held my face, feeling it burn beneath my palm. We'd had are fair amount of arguments, but Thomas had never hit me like that after we got married... I looked back at him, storming towards me in the water - shouting barbed jibes with his fisted balled - each of the veins in his temples and neck bulging with fury. I backed away, stunned in what to say and what to do.
“Thomas...?” was all I could manage.
He stopped, stared at me, and then shook his head and continued his advance.
A sharp ululating sound rang through the forest around us.
Shit has timing.
Two dozen tribal warriors burst out of the line of trees and I managed to pull myself out of the water as Thomas seemed to have found new targets. I drew my sword, and charged the disorganised rabble before they could form. I didn't just look younger, I felt younger. I swung the weapon with ease, feeling no complaints from my muscles or joints. Each of these warriors were at least seven feet tall, and their muscles were tones, their tanned skin gleaming like it had been rubbed with oil. They jabbed with their short blades and spears, and I managed to knock away most. One of them became a little over-enthusiastic and leapt on me. I ducked low, but his weight fell on my shoulder and we were pulled into the pool of healing water. I submerged myself in the pool, searching for my target. I couldn't beat him here. I needed to exit the Fountain of Youth. I could see his hands searching frantically for me, before he dived under also. He grabbed a fistful of my hair and bubbles escaped my mouth in a silent scream. I bit his hand and he yowled, while I swam away and got to shore. I spat the water from my mouth, and rose with my sword drawn. A spear flew straight at me, but I knocked it aside and parried the blow of another assailant. I through him of and ended his life quickly with a sharp slice to the throat. I spotted Thomas in the melee, taking down two or three men at a time, his twin cutlasses drawing more blood than I had ever seen for myself. He caught my eye for a second, but it was gone as soon as it had come - returning his focus on the guardians of the Fountain.
It wasn't until it was too late that I felt something sharp exit through my torso and warm liquid sluice down my body...