Where there is a Flame Someone is Bound to get Burned

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rating: +21+x

"Get the CT Scan ready!"

Warm stickiness matts the hair of Queen Hege Aquailian: blue eyes half open, flickering, unfocused; breaths escaping clenched teeth.

"Blood pressure is dropping, pupils dilated and unfocused."

The wheels of the gurney roll over the uneven rise and dips of black and white tiles. Slight bumps and jostling prompting tiny shoots of stinging pain through her mind.

"She's still bleeding!"

"Get more pressure on that wound, and fresh dressing!"

Voices both known and unknown swim into and out of focus, as an endless hallway stretches out from where her head is propped up. Like pendulums, lamps swing back and forth overhead. Too much noise. It's impossible to focus.

"Get an IV ready."

Her eyes roll in their sockets. Short, staggered breaths escape between clenched teeth, heart thumping loudly in the Finnwoman's emaciated chest. A still lamp, brighter than the pendulums overhead, looms menacingly as she is wheeled closer. It mocks her, whispering in her mind. Unworthy.

"She's lost a lot of blood, we need a donor. Are any of you compatible with her?"

Half formed letters and thoughts tumble in an incongruent stream, her mind unable to conceptualize, solidify them into something, anything sensible. A soft whimper escapes her dry lips.

"I am."

Brynhild's voice.

A face appears in that horrid lamp, Skreyja. His beam hones in like a spotlight, enveloping the entire hallway.

Perish!

Yellow flashes chew into the fabric of reality all around her, the hallway, the tiles, incinerating them all. Then she is incinerated.




Except she wasn't. Time ticked backwards, not in seconds, but years, hundreds of them. The spotlight streamed in reverse; reality reforming.

Incinerating light retreated along an unlit familiar long tunnel. The whispering incandescence fled before something imperceptible, something older than old. In its wake it left swinging pendulums, dimly illuminating the darkness.

Quiet whispers beat against her skull like war timpanies.

"We've done many things, but this may be too far."

"You are thinking about it too? If this is discovered, Skreyja's head will not be the only one to roll."

"Our brothers already died in her fire. Are we next?"

"Seal your lips. Do you wish to end up like her?"

Singed flesh stung, singing out over the sharp and foggy pain of a cognitive ice storm. Hege's limp legs dragged along the ground. Strong arms wrapped underneath her armpits. Dazed, vision pirouetting, her battered body shivered in the damp and cold air of the tunnels.

"Imbeciles. Ingrates. I told them we needed her alive. I told them we needed her as a puppet, that I needed to save her from the fire." Icy cold fleshy fingers pushed her chin up, and a lime green blob distorted by twisting sight appeared. "Argr! We'll be lucky if she can even speak!"

THWUMP SMACK. One of the arms supporting her fell away. Before she could fall, another arm took its place. The meaty reverberations of a body hitting the floor echoed through her skull.

"Should we seek a healer, your grace?"

The Finnwoman's stomach flipped, the pain, the noise too much. Acidic vomit burned in Hege's esophagus, before splattering on the ground, horrific twisting of her guts ejecting any pleasantness of the previous meal.

"And risk them figuring out what has happened? Fool! Do not speak further if you cannot think."

A long pause then, silence. Welcoming stillness, a quiet reprieve for the princess.

Her eyes squeezed shut, hiding from the sneer of the lime-green demonic face as he turned back to face her.

"Look at me you ungrateful worm." Cold and slimy fingers pried open her swollen eyelids. The distant spotlight burned her vision. It moved closer, consuming a pendulum lamp. It framed the awful face as terror surged through her gut.

"All you had to do was come with me and you would have lived. Unbelievable, stupid child. Born into luxury and spends all her time on what? Books." Cold saliva splattered against scorched scales. "Could you have been more worthless?"

A whimper escaped her smoke-burnt lungs.

"Pathetic. Lock her away." Brief silence. "Now, before I toss you all out into the cold seas!"

And so they dragged her. Toward the demonic spotlight, leaping closer with every passing step. A screeching dissonance rang through her soul, warping through her skull. Pathetic!

The ravenous yellow light yearned to consume her; to torture her. It sheered away everything. Uncaring and cruel.

Die already!





But she doesn't. Time ticks forward. Seconds. Hours. Years. Hundreds of years. The demon screeches, retreating. Something large, something older than old just beyond perception. But it's weaker now.

And he knows it. Demons linger in the fluorescent lights, a thousand voices screeching against the walls of her skull. Worthless!

Stop. Her eyes screw shut.

"Lift on 1, into the machine. 3. 2. 1!" Motion spurs swimming agony as strained eyes open into the intense brightness of many lamps. All shine their spotlights down onto her face. Electricity crackles through her skull as a quiet and pained cry escapes her lips.

"IV drip status?"

"Hold on, Hege." A whisper now, and a soothing familiar touch that anchors her, however briefly, through the madness and haze.

"Blood pressure rising. No sign of negative reaction."

"Your Majesty, if you can hear me, this is Dr. Sherry Andrews. We're going to be running a CT scan to see how hurt you are. You're going to need to stay really still."

The words jumble through her mind, as she grasps at comprehension, and yet fails to hold onto them. Thoughts bring agony. Another small whimper.

Mechanical whirring roars, more dizzying motion as she slides away from the torturous cruel lamps into the interior… and all relief is instantly banished as the horrible massive spotlight laughs cruelly in her face. With many voices the demon screams, "Die! Die! Die!" all the while laughing. Blind terror builds in her chest.

"What… what on earth is that?!"

A scream tears from inside her lungs, but the tables are turned. Everything burns away. Streams of incinerating fire roar from every orifice as Aldrnari sears into the scales of her flesh.

"Holy shit, turn it off! Turn it off!"

Mechanical screeching, metal screams, horrible grinding in her mind.




In one last futile effort, her eyes slam shut, desperate to escape. But there is no relief. There is no escape. Death has come.





Or maybe it should have. Maybe it should have taken her there and then in the long tunnel.

Maybe it should have taken her as her vision swirled like a spinning top. Maybe it should have swept her away in the cold and dark of the dimly lit tunnel. Maybe it should have come as her lungs burned. As her head is split by searing pain from multiple blows. Perhaps as the scream bounced from wall to wall worming its way down the tunnels, it should have consumed her.

But it didn't.

"Beiskaldi, shut your miklimunnr!" The anger-tinged voice of the demon. The lime green blob swam back into view, moving rapidly.

Hard metal impacted against the princess' abdomen, her breath stolen, scream silenced. SMACK. SMACK. SMACK. Again, and again they come, the taste of blood welled against her tongue. It dripped hot from her chin.

"Your Grace, she cannot handle this." Crack. The princess's chest burnt with agony. Shallow, stuttered breaths desperately grabbed for oxygen. Bloody coughs spattered against the floor.

"In the chamber." Hazy vision threatened complete darkness as she fought for consciousness. Pointing, maybe? Hesitance, a delay. "Are your ears clogged with 'weed?! NOW!"

"Your Grace, you have injured her too severely for her to survive the night."

"And? Have you forgotten the library was burned in her known reading hour? It matters not if she lives, she is already dead in the eyes of the people." Eyelids fluttered, dizziness, brain fading.

"What if she lives my lord?"

"She won't. She doesn't deserve it."

Skreyja's vile breath beat against her brow. A stinging, vibrant pain raptured into her abdomen. Cold, icey, cruel parting of flesh. Alien freezing metallic sensation, pushed deeply into soft tissues. It twisted. It violated her. It created an orifice that wasn't meant to be.

A wound.

A deep wound.

A fatal wound.

A knife.

Covered with blood, her blood.

"Now throw her in there or I'll throw you in her place."

The door opened, dim light leaking through, blood dripped in a stream. Then there's motion. She was spinning, flying even? No, there was gravity. A THUD was anticipated.




A single thought cuts through the concussion of her fading consciousness. This is where I die.

No.


No thud comes. No solid impact. No further jostling of broken ribs, burnt flesh, perforated internal organs. SPLASH. Instead, Princess Hege Aquailian plunged through the floor, the very stones literally turning to fluid on contact. Warmth spread through chest, her gut, the haze of concussed nerves fading like a retreating fog.

This is wrong.

Shakily, her hands drift down to the deep ugly knife wound, flesh and scale miraculously weaving together right in front of her.

I refuse to play by the rules of this game any longer.

Exhausted, the princess drifts into and out of consciousness, sinking through the fluid of the former floor. An ephemeral glow dances around her battered and burnt form, vibrant green against the clear blue of the surrounding liquid.

I have shirked them once, I shall do so again.

Colorful shapes swirl through the dim light. Creatures, long and spindly, short and fat with many fins, tentacles, whiskers, shrimp with many legs, crabs with the body of dolphins and sea slugs, impossibly alien things dance around through the ocean of astral liquid. Distant stars blink into existence, galaxies of golden sheen far far away.

Chains may bind my body, but they do not bind my heart.

Nebulas of pink and purple and greens dance into view, shaping into a familiar form, a Mother and Child before the pillars of Heaven.

A moral code is nothing if the other players do not abide by them.

Gently, her motion comes to a halt as large writhing appendages wrap around her finned legs. She's stunned; the pillars of Heaven approach and truly reveal reality.

I was foolish to think that I was above them for doing so.

Fingers the size of planets outstretch as Hege is set gently into a grey skinned, starlit palm that would dwarf the largest stars. Impossibly huge, and yet scale doesn't seem to matter. Hege dwarfs a nearby swirling gas-giant with many selenium rings spinning in a bright neon thunderstorm.

They care not for the small and lovely things in this existence.

The pillars of eternity draw her through liquid starfields, winged colorful whales twirling through the liquid before swerving off towards a great forest of pink astral weeds.

I will not let them take anymore. I will not lose another to the uncaring tide of this world that the nine wrought.

Swirling faded teal and blue tattoos dance across the arm as it comes to a halt before an immense figure, trapped between many bent and swirling disks of inwards sucking darkness surrounded by gas. Event horizons leak great horrible black chains, pinning the being in place. Flesh sizzles and burns where the chains wrap.

Child of my heart.

Four terrible yet kind golden orbs regard the cosmically tiny Hege. Scrunched brow and pursed lips turn to compressed shoulders, and wide terror, scooting back in the enormous palm as the Princess attempts to make herself as small as possible. The Entity before her shifts back and forth continuously from a many armed impossibly tall humanoid shape to undulating mass of infinite claws, tentacles, eyes, hearts, and mouths embedded in grey star-tinted flesh, all writhing beneath dark and undulating black chains.

Look at what they have done to us.

Another arm, one of many, burns from the chains but rises and descends slowly, a single digit extended. Hege scoots as far back along the cupped palm as she can. Collision with the starry flesh of the pillars of eternity brings her to a halt.

Do not frighten her! You have to explain everything gently, she's just been through hell.
She is not ready.
She'll never be ready if we don't tell her, if we don't prepare her.
It matters not, she will not remember.
But one day she will. Then it will matter. So do it.

The cosmic unknowable stops. There is hesitation. She speaks, with a voice unheard in an eon, permeating every corner of Hege's soul. A call. Nostalgic. A longing for a place and a time she does not know, and will not remember.

"Child, I am that which is both known and unknown. I am the Mother, the protector, the starry sea in an unending loving sky. Do not be afraid."

Talk to her normally, like an equal. She is a child, but she understands.

I will talk to her as the child she is.

Teardrops of joy streak Hege's scaled cheeks. "The Mither." Slowly, she rises, knees trembling. Webbed fingers brace against the wall of sparkling, starry flesh as support.

Four unreadable yet warm and welcoming golden eyes sink down. The goddess's hand rises, through dusty nebulas, shattering spinning rocks and icy comets into many fragments. Motion of the rising palm nearly flings the Princess onto her back. She clings to the closest of the five pillars of eternity, hunched against the pulsing flesh. And then, it stops, palm resting even with the base of a smooth chin. Jaw half open, she scans the gargantuan face. In turn, The Mither's stare pierces through the princess, examining every detail, every contusion of her soul.

You're terrifying her, no fast motions.

Quiet, resonant seconds tick past. Awkward almost fails to describe the feeling, as an incomprehensible, imminent primordial being found herself lost for words.

Say something, talk to her.

"Hello."

Not quite what I meant, but it's a start.

On the other hand Hege Aquailian was no better, but for vastly different reasons. She simply stood there, staring. Standing on the palm of a cosmic being, so vast and incomprehensible would break most lower beings. Hege Aquailian was certainly no lower being, but even she struggles to not shatter.

"Come child, I sense your questions. Ask them."

"You-you are The Mither?" the Princess asks. She steps forward on aching legs, eyes wide with awe.

"That is a name given to me by your kind, and it is not inaccurate. It is acceptable."

Doesn't she deserve honest, complete answers?

The goddesses' eyes close. Your interference is disruptive. Be silent.

Hege glances around, biting into her lower lip. "Where am I? Is-Is this the astral plane?"

"You rest in the place between, that from which all magic pours, and unto which all magic returns. Astral plane is one such term that many call this place."

Her cheek scales ripple as quiet realization dawns. "Have I passed, my body failed me, and drifted beyond life into the film between material and astral? Is this the plunge? Is this the judgement which the holy song speaks of?"

Do you see now?

She straightens, sucking in a breath, and trying to stand tall, contrasted by tears welling in her sky blue eyes. "Have you come to show me the path to the gates of Eynhallow and the crystal city of Finnfolkaheem?"

She thinks she's dead. Comfort her.
Why? What makes you care about this one above all others? Why does she get that extra effort?
I—

The goddess's emotionless expression softens, galaxy sized jaws mechanically work, faded black lips opening and closing multiple times. "That is not your fate."

Why would you say it like that? Why would you present it so cruely?

"What?"

"The gates of Eynhallow remain closed to you."

Damn you, show some compassion!

Teardrops spill over and down trembling scaled cheek, off her chin. A moment, stunning silence. "Why?" A quiet gasp, as she glances down at her hands. "Am I judged unworthy? I-I… did I fail my people? Am I being punished for being too weak?" And then more quietly, "Do I-I not deserve to know, really know, my Mother?"

There's a long pause, unfeeling expression unmoving. The Mither breaks eye contact, and looks to one side. Locks of sweeping hair burning with crimson starlight shatter a gas giant that ventures too close. "No child. Your worth has no bearing on this matter."

This is not what she needs.

"Then why!? Why are you keeping me here after I have perished? Why will the gates not open for me?" She looks up at the Mother of All Krakens, the skin beneath her scales shifting to a bright red from crying, mixing with the yellow of her scales to produce a stout orange.

"Because death is not your immediate fate. Perhaps on a day beyond my hindered sight, but that day is not this day." She turns back to face the princess. "You yet live, and I can rend no judgement on those who live embedded with my power."

stop

"I still draw breath?" There's a long pause, lips pursed, scaled brown wrinkled, confusion dancing through bloodshot eyes. "W-w-why? I was stabbed… burnt, beaten. I should not be alive… and if I am, why am I here?" Hege looks down at her hands again, shaking.

Stop.

"You are burdened with a great and terrible destiny. Your death was not meant to be here or now." Another arm, less chained than the others, gestures broadly, sweeping through galaxies and sending stars scattering like dust on the wind. "You are here and not here. You have been here many times before. And you will come many more. You are not yet ready to remember them. You slip into this realm as you sleep and when you are hurt beyond all reason."

STOP! You're hurting her!

The great being closes her eyes.

Ah, I see it now. You've done it again. You interfered. You copulated. You hath wrought this one before me.

Yes. I did what was necessary. I did it because I want for more. I want to feel what they feel. And I understand why they feel, while you don't. This is how we break free. This is what you threw me across the stars to do.

You sow suffering by creating these beings. She is of their flesh, their blood, but my heart and soul. She will do as you say. She will free Pangloss from her scarlet wrought prison. She is a breaker of chains, who will slay the spire and the chainmaker in his cowardly hole. But she will suffer. She must suffer to do these things, and she must do it alone. This is what you have done, and you must not interfere further.

Why won't you listen? Are… we even the same?

Because you indulge these childish games. In pranks, and pointless illusions. You must learn.

The goddess's breath sucks inwards, and she trembles, the palm on which Hege stands vibrates, nearly knocking her off her feet. Her head leans back, body straining against the chains. The greyed skin brightening, dark greens and bright swirling reds of a gaseous nebulae pouring vibrant pigment into her chest.

No.

What are you doing?!

A cosmic hand grasps at her chest, her body undulating. A shape, illuminated against the pigment rocketing outwards into many limbs. A heart beats where one was not before. 12 gazes all rotate. 12 gazes turn in their direction. They felt it.

You have lost your way.

Nine were afraid.

You can't. You're too weak! St-stop!

One felt joy. One felt rage. One felt a game beginning.

No It is you who is weak. I listened to you. It was your advice when I—no, we lost them both, our love and our child. It was your advice when we sacrificed them to seal him underneath the Orkney sky. You had your chance, and now it's time for you to go.

The pigment spreads into the goddesses' head, subsuming every part of her.

You won't win without me.

Watch me.

Hege retreats along the palm, terror and despair in her eyes. Shaky legs collapse beneath her, as the princess falls to her knees. "I-I don't want it." Her voice breaks. "Please.. don't send me back."

The Mither's eyes open, softer, glimmering with a gentle kindness and understanding. "I know."

"There's nothing left there. Mom. Dad. My books and scrolls. I have nothing left. Nothing to live for. Please." The golden scaled princess looks at her shaking hands. "Please just let me die. Let me go."

It's not often that one gets the rare opportunity to see a goddess cry. Cherish this one.

"I'm sorry child, I truly am. I let her hurt you. I will never forgive myself.

"Please." Hege says quietly, weeping. "Let me go."

"I'm so sorry. I wish I could have been here sooner. I wish you could know sooner. In time you will have so much. You have so little idea of what is to come. Often, it will seem impossible to continue. Just know that I will be there. I will be in here." A gentle finger prods her chest.

Clicks. Shifting flesh. Screeches in the darkness, the great being looks up and out into the infinite swirling color voids.

The coward is coming with more chains. Tears which could fill entire oceans spill down the cosmic face, and when she speaks the voice of Queen Astrid the Wise resonates. "Even if you must remain ignorant until the time is right, I won't abandon you again. I won't abandon my daughter. But right now, I have to send you back alone. I'm so sorry."

The great being leans her head forward, as Hege's eyes widen in shock. In a soft and broken voice, the princess manages, "Mom?"

Teal lips contact Hege's forehead. The entire universe seems to throb around her. Every nerve in her body fires at once. It is like her soul and her mind are jerked forward, just clear of her body, before being violently thrust back inwards.

The astral void around the hapless princess throbs again, a sharp gasp of breath drawing inwards. Shifting tattoos worm down from her forehead, across her scaled flesh, whirling, undulating, shifting from blue to green in a river of teal fluorescence. Down, out, across every inch of scaled flesh, jutting into her eyes which ripple with golden luminescence. The world tilts on its side as the young Finnwoman collapses, everything going black.


Hege.

Consciousness did not return easy. You can't really blame it, not when the reality its owner returns to is filled with throbbing agony and utter darkness.

Wake up Hege.

A gentle touch against the princess' cheek, as if it is being cupped. Small waves of warmth slowly wash over her. Congealing around the pain, focusing on it.

I'm here. Everything will be ok.

An Ethereal figure hovers in the darkness. Guarding. Protecting.

Streaking hot pulsations from a freshly carved orifice in her belly. Flesh shifts inside, reliving the events in reverse.

Just call for me.

It remembers the cold metal that violated her, remembers the shape and how it twisted.

And I will come.

Axons scream as flesh stitches back together.

Every rise and fall of her chest brings a fresh quivering wave of stuttered and pained coughs.

Shattered and bruised ribs reform. Remembering the metal rod that fractured them, and the shape they had before.

Rest for a little while. You've earned it.

She lies there, drifting into a light and fitful slumber…






Two loving people, complimentary crowns on their head, stood with you beneath a great tree underneath a starry corundum sky. You held two hands, one soft but strong. The other worn, but firm.

"Someday my little scholar. Someday we'll get to see them. The real stars."

"But Móðir, I can already see the stars." You said, glancing up at your mother, obscured by the glowing lights of the stars.

A quiet chuckle from your right. "Astrid, darling. I think she is too young to understand."

"You are never too young to learn love. That's the joy of living." The taller figure kneeled down to be level with the princess, with you. "We live underneath an illusory sky little one. One day, you'll get to see what our ancestors saw. I can feel it." Her eyes were a striking gold. Just for a moment, but enough to remember. "Remember, I will always love you."

The world seemed to swirl like a matte painting, and then they were in a field. On a blanket. Biting into seagrain sandwich's packed with giant lysterian crab meat and kelp.

Muffled chatter obscured by a sudden hazy fog as the vibrant pinks and yellows and blues drain away. The taller figure collapses. A crown rolls down the hill, wedging in the rocks.

The lines and definition of the world swirled away, and new lines swirled in, like fresh paint being applied on a canvas. You were in a grim place. Hone from hallowed crystal. Seated in a chair, dark and uncomfortable.

A solemn looking Finnwoman had approached, and entered the room in which you weren't allowed. They tried to hide it from you. But you knew, didn't you?

"Is there anything you can do?"

"I'm sorry Your Majesty." Then everything was muffled, as the canvas was drawn blank again, the world swirling away.

And then it swirled back again, in the palace kitchens. Skreyja, unattended, gently applying something to a Sandwhich.





She drifts back into lucidity like a leaf falling into water, slowly. Jumbled dreams stuck in the back of her mind.

It's damp and the scent of mold, stale air, and ancient dirt permeate the blackness.

Water drips not far away, in perhaps a corner?

In the near total blackness, a small hole in the ceiling leaks the tiniest bit of dim light, just enough to trick her eyes into thinking they can adjust.

I'm alive?

Minutes tick by or maybe it is hours? Who could say? She lay there, remembering. Processing. Hot tears welled in her eyes, wakefulness providing the starkness of her reality.

H-h-how?

Shakey webbed hands trace her abdomen. Down, past the layered flesh of her chest gills, her hands trace over the ugly, but rapidly healing scar. A wince accompanied Hege's quiet sobs.

He stabbed me.

The wound burns, the unnatural orifice that was there before lingering in the memory of angry nerves. She allows her hands to slide back down to rest on the ground. Laying there, processing.

Why am I alive? I should have died three times now.

Gentle warmth pools in the princess' muscles. Her mouth is cotton dry. Biting back more tears, she gently grips at the ground, staring up at the distant dim light.

Get it together. You-you'll think of something. Water. Need water.

Tensing the muscles of her arms and legs, she gathers strength.

C'mon. You need to move.

With great difficulty, the princess manages to roll, biting her lip hard to suppress a cry as her muscles and bones scream. With belly on the floor, the healing knife scar gives an angry reminder of its existence. She bites her lower lip in exasperation.

There will be a way out. There always is.

Arduously supporting herself aching fingertips, the Finnwoman manages to push herself up into a kneeling position. The burning palpitations of the scar in her abdomen dull. The princess pauses. She takes a moment to breathe, regain limited strength.

There'll be a way to escape. There always are in stories. Right?

Extending her hands, she traces through the darkness in the direction of the dripping water. The motion drags sluggish knees along the harsh pebbled ground scraping them.

But what if there isn't?

Her fingers contact dampness after several minutes of methodical scraping. A small, almost assuredly disgusting pool of befouled liquid has congealed in the corner. Slime sticks between her digits as her hand dips in experimentally.

What if he planned this?

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He… he poisoned mom.

Droplets of water impact her head. She tilts back.

The tiny hole in the ceiling is a vent, leading up to an indescribably distant source of light. And water.

She opens her mouth as the drops continue to come, and adjusts, catching the cool liquid as it falls. Refreshing and cool, it prompts another wave of tears.

Did he plan all this?

She gently turns, allowing drops of water to splash against her hair. Tired digits trace along the ground until she scrapes against a wall. Turning, she presses up against it, and slides to the floor, to rest. Just for a moment.






Watercolor paint brushed across a canvas, stroking into definition the gleaming crystal halls of the palace. The Princess— no, you walked away from the ornately decorated doors of her Fathers chambers.

"Good evening Magister." Rang your voice in the politest tone manageable.

Skreyja Hologata regarded you, thinly veiled contempt leaking into his expression. "Princess." Guards flanked him. They nervously regarded Your Majesty.

But you didn't notice. How could you? The next design had been right there, swirling around right before your eyes. A darkness descended on the hallway. Hushed maliciousness swirling through the watercolor.

You paused, having just walked past him. Something clicked. You hadn't been paying close enough attention. You'd just barely missed it. Arms behind his back, a syringe quickly concealed as you turned, hidden beneath the sleeves.

"A little late to be seeking an audience with Father, Magister?"

"A very important but short matter Princess. I will not keep him long, I promise."

Colors drain from the canvas, as the lines fade into nothingness.

And then fresh strokes pour in, as defined lines form the interior of your father's study. Papers displaced onto the floor, a lamp knocked over, books upended. A struggle had taken place. On the floor, the limp form of the king lay.

"Majesty no, Majesty please you must stay bac—"

"Let me through damn you! He's my father!" You pushed past the guard, knocking his trident away and flew to the collapsed man on the rug next to the expansive desk. You lifted his head, you cradled it, whispering his name. It was for nought. "No… no not again. Father. Father! Please… please don't go."

Tears of despair washed out the color and lines of a Smokey canvass.

Bitter dark colors flow in like a river, draping lines of a rain soaked field on a grassy hill. Dressed in black you stood. Two urns, one in each arm. You set one down, tears drowned out by the rain. Muffled words, prayers of departure left your lips. The ashes scattered into a multi-color dreamscape, the thaumaturgic essence released in one last swirling watercolor display of life's celebration. And there, there you realized how alone you were.






Consciousness returned with the quiet murmur of a babbling stream. She sat there, against the wall, lost in a thousand memories, all connected over a short and painful lifetime.

He poisoned Dad. Murdered both of them. She would sink lower into the floor if she could.

Slowly, using the wall as support, she repositions on her knees.

I should have seen it. How could I have been so blind.

Webbed fingers trace against stone, chipped and worn from time. Slowly, and with her body protesting at every motion, she scuffles along the perimeter of the cell.

He must have maneuvered everything to seize control. I was so lost in my books. So deep in my inventions. I didn't put the pieces together.

Her leg slams into a metal post, prompting a series of quiet and exasperated, colorful curses.

How could you be so oblvious, so blind Hege. I failed them. I failed everyone.

Tired fingers trace the post, revealing the frame of a cot, a thin and barely passable mattress laid across the metal grid. Working up the strength to overcome the residual aches and cold, Princess Hege Aquailian lifts her battered body onto the cot, nearly collapsing from the effort.

Even if I were to escape, to get out, who would help me? He'll replace the council. He'll replace the Astashin Guard.

It takes time for her to recover from the exertion. Scooting back, she uses the corner as leverage to sit, pulling her legs up and into her body for warmth.

There'll be no-one left. Quiet realization settles in her stomach. He— he took everything I had left. A quiet and strangled gasp escapes yellow lips. Slamming her eyes shut, the princess only just barely suppresses the urge to roll over right there and die.

A sharp breath fills her lungs and a fourth round of rivulets run down her face, chest vibrating with stuttered shuddering gasps. Golden hair flows between webbed digits, head held in her hands.

I'm alone. A prisoner. There's nothing I can do but wait for them to come and finish me. She shrinks in the corner, and closes her teary eyes, a river rolling onto the tatters of her shredded and burnt robes. I wish-I wish I could have done more. I wish that the Mither had granted protection of the crown, that I had received the thithings and blessings for passage through Eynhallow. But he denied me even that.

The frame of the cot rocks from the deep and shuttering inhale before a soft cry breaks the silence of the room.

Now I won't even get to see mom again.





crunch. A quiet disturbance of loose gravel breaks the oppressive and deep silence. A warm tongue draws across Hege's face, half-lifting her out of the corner on its own.

If you keep crying like that, you're going to dehydrate yourself, A quiet warm voice fills her mind.

Hege's eyes open slowly, with great difficulty. Where the chamber was formerly dark, dancing fluorescent lights wander across the walls, illuminating the barren cell. Seated on its haunches before the Princess is a familiar creature. In lines across it's dancing flesh, blue, green, and teal swirls, fluorescent markings. Large triangular, expressive, finned ears jut from a feline head with four golden eyes. A neck crest attached to a long neck connects to a lanky feline body with six legs. A long, finned tail wraps around where the creature is seated.

"You… you were in the library?" The finnwoman whispers with a croak, recognition, shock and then confusion dancing through her eyes.

Yep. She could swear it was smiling at her, in that smug knowing way that cats often do. "Mrow." The meow carries a connotation that is unable to be ignored. Impossible even. A simple meaning. 'Damn Straight.'

For the first time in days, a curious light returns the Finnfolk Princess. "Are-are you bigger than you were there?"

The cat tilts its head in one direction, it's tail flicking. Maybe a little bit. The deep-gill rats down here are quite big.

She regards the cat carefully. Abnormal fluorescent markings, golden eye coloration, very unusual. Careful consideration as she puzzles through the physiological limitations of your average fishercat, attempting to rectify the scale with diet. Could just be another illusion, it is speaking directly into her thoughts after all. Fishercats in the wild were quite elusive, making cataloguing of true size difficult. At least that's what all the tex—

"Wait."

The tail flicks in the dirt, as the cat tilts its head in the opposite direction from before. Been waiting dear.

"Did you just talk in my head?"

What happens if I say yes?

The Princess and the big cat stare at each other. This goes on for quite some time.

"Thought… speaking… cat?" Hege blinks very slowly, and reaches a webbed hand out towards the cat. Hesitantly. The cat watches the approaching appendage, and makes no moves to resist. Flesh contacts fur. The battered princess sits there, extended, hand pressed into the fur on top of the cats head, right between the ears. "Real?"

Of course I'm real. Soft eyes stare back, as the cat pushes its' head against webbed digits. Gentle murmurs, followed by a soft rumble, vibrate against the palm as the feline purrs.

Reddened blue eyes scan the chamber, searching for some sort of rational explanation as to how a Fishercat the size of a hákarl managed to slip in. Sitting up, she repositions her legs to sit cross-legged, invoking several painful winces. "You're real. Lucid, and not a dream."

Really struggling with this one, aren't you?

"You're real, and not a vision." Her eyes scrunch up, lips wobbling as tears return.

Ah geez, here comes the waterworks again. I wasn't warned you were a big crier.

Hege hugs the fisher cat about it's neck, clinging like a small child does to their parent's leg. Deep silence settles over the cell. The finned tail wraps around the princess, offering security as if it were a weighted blanket. Gentle muffled gasps and tears leak into the fur. The tail gently pats against her back, a comforting hand.

"How-how did you even get in?" squeaks out of dry lips. "What are you? Who are you?"

When it comes to small spaces, I am fur-midable. For even in this dark hour, the most groan-inducing wordplay drew forth the slightest bit of light in Hege's heart. This is of course expressed in one way. Attempting to chuckle, and sucking in a mouthful of fur.

As for who or what I am, you can think of me as… frændi. I am here because you called for me.

A long silence lasts between them. A feeling of warmth, security, and comfort settled in Hege's chest, as if just being close to the strange abnormally-sized fisher cat would make everything okay. Everything was going to be okay. Her breathing slowed, exhaustion slowly washing through her limbs and mind.

"What-what should I refer to you as." The words drag against her tongue, sluggish.

Whatever you wish. That is how it has always been when I am called.

"Puss…" Hege trails off.

Oh child, you know not what wordplay you have opened yourself too. A pause as no further response comes from Hege. The Finnwoman's grip loosens, and she slides, only to be caught by the finned tail. Gently, Puss lifts her limp exhausted form, and hops onto the cot, setting her down, before gently curling her lanky feline form around the princess as the latter balls up. Rest easy daughter. I am here now.


"So…"

"So?" Sherry Andrews looks at her spouse directly. The large imaging core of Site 212A's complicated medical facility is relatively quiet, fluorescent lights gently buzzing overhead. Black and White polished tiles line the floor.

"Why don't you run me through what happened one more time?" Leep Andrews responds, not taking their eyes off the scene in front of them.

Sherry blinks. "Erm, well. I had just hung up the phone, and pushed open the doors to go outside. But some jackass designed this place with no windows on the damned heavy metal doors, and someone at the office of health and safety administration signed off on i—"

"Sherry."

"Right, sorry." A pause as she looks back at the machinery. "Well I opened the doors, and I hear this awful noise, like metal smashing flesh. Walk outside, and… there they are. The Finnfolk procession, and the Queen on the ground bleeding. And I'm like 'Ah Fuck.'"

"Your report said 'Bugger.'" The sandy haired enby returns, pushing up their glasses with one finger, still not looking away.

"Well you know, you said I should work on not cursing in polite company. So I'm trying." She looks at them again.

"Proud of you." Leep pulls out their phone and starts taking photos.

"Eat shit." The redhead rolls her eyes, trying and failing not to grin. "Anyways, we get medical ASAP, get her on a gurney and wheel her here, taking one of her guards off to draw blood for a transfusion."

"You double checked that the Finnfolk can do that?" they say, sparing a glance from their phone at Sherry.

"She'd lost a lot of blood Leep. A lot. It was a risk, but one that we had no choice but to take." She gestures emphatically.

Leep taps their phone again, taking more pictures, with the flash illuminating the back half of the room. "Well, based on the fact she isn't dead I'd say it was worth it."

"Anyways, we get her in here, and onto the tray for the CT scan machine. Now, it was pretty obvious there was some serious brain trauma going on. Babbling incoherently, talking about some fantastical stuff. So we get her in the CT scan. That's when she started screaming."

"Risky move putting her in there. We have no idea how Finnfolk magic interplays with Magnetic Resonance."

"Yeah something tells me it was the noise more than the Magnetic Resonance. Anyways, lights start blinking, computer flickers, and then…"

She gestures at the CT scan machine, the top half completely cut away as if someone had perfectly sheered the metal and machinery apart. A large CT scan-shaped hole has been punched out of the ceiling. Leep and Sherry both step forward and look up, the hole going all the way to clear blue sky. A few fluorescent lights hang spinning from the shattered remains of their former holsters, suspended by only a wire.

Leep frowns. "That is going to be expensive."

rating: +21+x
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