The Loneliest Traid

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  • Published: 2 Apr 2017
  • Updated: 13 May 2017
  • Status: Complete
Love and death and war and Gods and blood and magic and dancing and rest and revenge and kings and fate.
Don't worry, within these three stories you'll know yourself,
And I will put you back together again.

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40. Mirrors

Gomez took his hair down.  It spiraled around his head in a crown not made for a king, long dark brown curls that tore into a shaved side he hadn’t managed to keep all this time since he was sent to the field by his father who saw the glory in war, and also the torture he could send his youngest to for how he betrayed him and brought a Jinn into his home.

    The room was the highest in a sanctuary for the warriors sentenced to die for king Dyrad.  It was made of stone, a pillar erupting from the forest floor below, not made for him but for the soldier which built this world.  But now, it was theirs, the soldiers taking over whatever they could see, their fingers and grips too large for their needs.

    He pulled an ivory comb through his fringe.  It now stretched over his eyes like curtains, stinging his eyes whenever he stared too long.  He had begun wearing make up, his skin drooping, his tattoos cracking.  He pulled his skin back in the mirror, but it seemed to make no difference, he was still as aged as he seemed to be moments ago.  Something in him had changed too, it seemed.

    “Ta Oaka,” a soldier came into his room.  Elves had changed.  They stopped tattooing themselves, and were now as big as jinns, their shoulders tough and board, their skin bleached white and tough as nails.  They were no longer him, “We are moving out at dawn.”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    The soldier nodded, and walked out of his room, his prison, where he thought for so long that he would die.  He felt sick to the teeth, this war now a part of his life, more important than other parts of him.  He felt lost, longing for something more, and not finding more than the comfort of soldiers letting him know when they next were to move out.  

    Gomez ran his fingertip along the expanse of his collar.  Once a symbol of royalty, now not more than a leash.  Loops around his throat, spikes protruding them to keep his head forward, the symbol of the forest hanging from one prong out of so many needles that pressed into his skin.

    His eyes were stones polished and black, and it seemed as though he was not himself at all.  He hadn’t even realised before.  Before he had met Chene again.

    Chene hadn’t even waited to see how he was.  Instead, he took of as quickly as he had came, his shadow and dark soul lurking but nothing more.

    He combed through the rest of his hair, pulling at lumps until they either came free or tore from his scalp.  It didn’t matter - he couldn’t feel it anymore.

    He poured the potion into his eye, a molasses texture swirling across his vision like the dark sails of a pirate ship.  His eye flickered from white to brown.  It did nothing to restore the vision, but it hid the blemish for the moment at least.

    Cardeni was a flat universe, so when the sun set it didn’t vanish but phased into the next realm instead.  The Gods of their world were not like yours, they were strange beings of hungry power and desertion, no love to their people strown apart by war and cost.  They would take their sun from their sky, and take the land from under them if they could.  Gods are no different to you.  We know - even they fear us.  We are all being pressed into skin we will never see from the outside, praying that it isn’t tearing with what we hold within.

    In the new darkness that shrouded the world he could only see the dim outline of his bones, that knocked through sliced skin like the crooked, wicked branches of a forest left burned and abandoned.

    He pulled at his skin, where it once was rounded and plumper in parts.  He hadn’t even noticed it go, but now that he did, he felt bruises rise from the slightest touch.

    He had hours before he had to move again, but there was no use sleeping.  He tended to have awful nightmares, almost every night.  He’d wake up cold, his body hot to the touch.  He’d sweat though each sheet and pillow he had and would never both try fall back asleep again, and instead just wash them for the next night of the same thing.  The other soldiers didn’t notice.  His protection went as far as the king needing to avoid ransom, and that was as much as he got.

    He missed Meliae, and Noom, and the rest of his brothers and sisters and the maids and cooks back home.  He heard that they painted over the golden tapestry in the grand hall, and there was nothing left to see of them but imprints where a story that had melded into his skin had once been.  But nevertheless, he missed being home, no matter how foreign it walwaays s to him.

    Outside, he swore he noticed a flickering by the window.  He stood for a moment, watching it.  It shuffled between trees and settled against them, a creature with nothing more than eyes visible, and staring down into him.

    Gomez stared back, unfazed.  He sat on the windowsill, hugging his knees up to his chest.  It wasn’t long before the creature scurried away, and Gomez watched his shadow return up over the hill to the other barracks.

    He lay on his bed, straw and cloth pressed together, smelling of musk and dry grass kernels.  He scrunched his nose, and pulled out his lyre.  It was only then that he noticed that one of the strings had snapped while Chene had dragged him through the forest.

    He sighed, plucking at what strings were left.  They were out of tune, the minor notes lifting into the dead air like flightless birds.  He felt his stomach pull again, and dropped the instrument to run the the bucket in the corner.  He had nothing left in his stomach, so spent ten minutes dry heaving until his vision throbbed with the pressure in his throat.  He hacked, and slid down the wall.  He saw the eyes again.  They had come back, now right against the glass, it’s breath fogging the outside glass in the cold evening air.  It was still nothing more than two piercing eyes, staring him down now with a familiar pity swimming through them.  

    Gomez laughed, weak, barely there.  The funny thing was, he wasn’t even sure if there was something even watching him from beyond the glass.

“Morta…” he joked, his voice breaking as he spoke, “Is that you?”

Morta scoffed, but Nona shushed her, leaning down into their world to see what was really following the boy.

Something darker than before, swallowing up the size of a man, walking blindly, shrouded by shadow and flickering from place to place as it stalked outside Gomez’s room.

He stood up, pressing against the doorframe for support.  His nails seemed longer with his skin dry and pulled tight, and they dug into the wood, leaving behind claw marks as small as the indents on a shell.

He opened the window, heaving it up with several attempts.  The shadow waited for him, not helping but unable to.  It leaked in the window, the mist pooling around Gomez’s bare feet.  It stung, but not as badly as it used to.

“Hello, Chene,” he whispered.

Nona covered her mouth in horror, and Morta was close to doing the same, despite what she’ll try to tell you.  Nona said that she couldn’t watch any longer.

But we did, because we must.  As is the way.

The shadow flicked into his hand, the skin visibly peeling off, but Gomez doing little more than sitting back on the windowsill again to be that bit closer to the darkness of the night.

“You fool, what have you done to yourself?” he said to it in a hushed voice, its eyes shutting, vanishing, and reappearing somewhat more alive, more mortal than before.

He wrapped his hand under where Chene’s should have been, picking up the burden of weight he’d become onto his knee and smoothing his curling fingers until the relaxed.  The night air was nice on the cuts of the harsh acid he had become, and Gomez found himself drifting off to sleep pressed against the monster, his eyes lures, guiding him home.  He was warm, overly so it proved, but it was the first bit of sleep he had gotten in a long time, and it was nice.

Nona grabbed at my sleeve, “He can’t sleep there, the cuts won’t heal quick enough.  He’ll die.”

Before I had a chance to speak, Morta pressed her finger to my lips.  I trust my sister, I’ve seen all the good that comes from her too, not just the bad, as Nona would say.

The monster took a step back, further and further until Gomez’s body was free to heal again.  Like this, with the window open and his body weak with hunger, it was almost too cold to speak, or to eve let your heart bother beat.

He turned away, and retreated once more, for good this time.  Gomez sat for a moment, and watched him.  Chene was scared now, yes, and had been corrupt by the inevitable evil that lived within his very being, but maybe Gomez was wrong, maybe some part of the man he had been still was.

Gomez sat into the bed, now wide awake again.  He had left the window open just in case, and he let the bitter frost of the night air fill his lungs and push away what warmth Chene had given him for the first time in a while.

He waited there, eyes open, strumming off tune songs with the one hand that hung off of the bed.  The birds outside were waking up, almost ready for dawn.  He sat up, his body dazed and shaking from lack of sleep, limp and weak and no state in which it was ready to fight.

Gomez tied his hair up today, as he used to before this whole war had become so gruesome, when there was still light and time and something worth sleeping for, and dreaming of.

He rubbed the thick paste back into his eye until it was brown again, patted over his skin in whatever powder he had.  He pinched his cheeks and his lips, but no matter how hard he tried, no blood could fill his frail face.

He reached under the room’s sink, patting around for his bottles, but there were no more than three left, and one nearly at its end.

He heard the morning begin, footsteps already roaming the halls, packing bags and planning.  It was his job to stay out of all this, but he felt as though he had reason this time.

“Excuse me?” he tapped at the soldiers that passed but most hardly spared him a glance.  Things were changing, people now less willing to give their lives for Dyrad, an obviously cruel and tarnished man, and why would his son be any different? “Sorry, can I just-”

“What?” one man spun on his heels.  A commander of some sort, and from this close Gomez could smell the burnt meat on his breath.

“I was just going to ask if… If there are any more strength spells, I have no more.”

“There’s none here.”

“But I need them,” Gomez grabbed his arm desperately, which the commander pulled away just as fast, “You don’t understand, I need them to get my strength back.  I-”

He pushed Gomez up against the wall, the dozens passing not caring to look, or maybe glad to see the glimpse of dread in the prince’s eye when he felt the commander push his knuckled up against his throat until he choked.  It was the first contact he really had in months, and it was one of the first few things he could actually feel.

“Maybe if you need them it’s time to stop being weak,” he spat, leaning milimetres from Gomez’s face, “Rilae.”

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