Grave Awakening

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No Need to Rush

One would think being stabbed through the chest then shoved off a ledge would be the worst that could happen to somebody in a week or even a lifetime. For Nick, it seemed to be just another Tuesday- or second day- however the Reyla called it. His head stung far worse this time around, compensating for the rest of his body being numb. In truth, it felt like the only part of him that still existed, the rest of him little more than dead weight, a fleshy sack of stones. He couldn’t move his arms, his legs; he could barely even breathe, his chest feeling as though it was being pressed down upon by the world, itself. Then there was the heat, the sweltering, unyielding heat that seemed to pulsate and scorch not on his skin but attack his insides. Nick didn’t know where he was nor how he got there, but he wouldn’t be surprised if he somehow ended up in a giant microwave.

Opening his eyes didn’t help as he couldn’t tell the difference if they were closed or otherwise. It was as if he had finally been taken into that abyss he flirted with but a day ago. That wasn’t his fault, though. He would have loved to sink into that embrace, but, alas, he got better. It was a curse to be close to immortal –moreso than he truly knew. Yet.

Where his eyes failed, his ears compensated. Once they were able to hear over the ringing, he could make out the distinct sound of hooves clomping away on the road, the racket and clangor of a cart. Rather, the cart he was in, clattering all around. If his body wasn’t so numb, he bet he could feel it rumble and rattle, too, but it was hard to tell what they did to him. Oh, it wasn’t a matter of who; they spoke enough for that not to be a mystery. At least, their identities. The one, though... He’ll get his answers when they finally stop.

“Look.” One said, the airier of the women. “Ralai is in sight.”

“We won’t make it by today,” the other, broken woman retorted. “We should have done this back-”

“How many times must it be said? Your people haven’t suffered anywhere as much as ours by dex hand,” the only male there interjected. “No... dex has much to answer to, and it will be on our terms. Dex will pay for everything he has done.”

“As long as I still get dex head. I want the honor of pounding it into dust.”

“You keep up your word and it is more than deserved,” the airy female said.

“I always do. It will just take time. As wise as dex appeared, dex was still lacking in certain cortuga-”

“Or neither of you gave dex the time to show,” the male cut in again, curt, more bitter than usual. “Dex always knew more than dex let on.”

“I get it. I was rastga,” the airy one said, sighing. “You don’t need to keep reminding me.”

“And again showing his own urzuul,” the other stated, also sighing. “Dex could’ve stopped us at any point putting him in the cart, and I could have told dex that dex was ambushed by dregsao. Instead, dex was rushing us to load dex on.”

“You have no idea what dex has costed me,” he said, his voice cold, colder than Nick ever expected it to be. “I have lost everything because of dex-”

“You think you are the only one?” The airy one exclaimed. “My whole village was slaughtered.”

“And mine was turned against itself. They ate each other alive all due to the krushnex dex sain into them! I couldn’t return, not after what Naiyala told me.”

“Yet you allowed styr to return to that hovel.” The broken one said, her chuckle derisive yet gloating. “You were as krushnex as them, but are so wrapped up in your sense of luzmaro that you cannot see it.”

“I would have killed styr.” The airy one declared. “Styr’s already a borenacht, but styr also has feelings for that... thing.”

“It’s more than that,” the male said. “Dex seems to care for styr, as well.”

Again, that derisive outburst. The broken one spat after, groaning.

“You really think dex has feelings? Dex’s a monster. I was tempted to offer dex to the dregsao, but I feared they would treat dex as their new god. I didn’t want dex to get off that easy.”

“Funny you have such vhaise for dex,” the airy one chided. “Dex was rather soft to you and your kin.”

“I don’t care what dex did to my ‘kin’; it’s what dex did to me, how dex hornspouna! What dex did was more an insult than my soul tender’s act.”

“I force you on your knees one time,” Nick grumbled. “Nothing even happened!”

The cart stopped.

The horse cried out from the sudden, jarring halt, hooves clacking, skittering as all three of them jumped off. They pounded around to the back, and light erupted into the cart, stained red. It seared at Nick still, made him wince, recoil, but that didn’t stop them from yanking him out the back. Just yanking him out; he grunted as he hit the road, his body still so numb. His head wasn’t as fortunate, striking it last, making stars dance as the world seemed to race yet drag at once. He could barely make them out through their “clones” and shadows, leaving them in a watery veil, but there was no denying who they were. Bren, Lon... and Rylo.

“How long have you been up?” He demanded, digging something sharp and pointy into Nick’s neck. He tried so hard to sound cold, but there was no hiding that tinge of glee, looking up to the others. “What did I tell you? Always hiding something.”

“As are you, apparently,” Nick mumbled, wincing from his own words. “My head... How are you alive?”

“You’re surprised? I thought you left me alive on purpose!”

“So much for dex being so gosknain,” Lon said.

“Wait.” Nick said, groaning as he laid his head back on the stone. It was cold compared to his head, welcomed. “I think I know how... I was slow with the process. It’s not the trauma that causes death most of the time but the force that causes it. The brain, when hurt, swells in the skull, which leads to it basically crushing itself... Because I was slow with you, took my time, your brain didn’t have to swell- and I even carved a nice chunk of skull out... Your regeneration after would mean that I failed spectacularly. Well done, me. Well fre-”

He wheezed, body finally feeling something. Rylo raised his foot and stomped again, and something shattered when he did. Not any part of Nick, surprisingly. He raised his head, looked down upon himself, and saw that his body had a nice sheen to it –well, had a nice sheen. It had broken near his middle, sharp, tacky spikes sticking around from the otherwise smooth surface. His whole body was wrapped in it, his arms forced to his sides, legs crossed at the ankles before pressed hard together.

“Seriously,” he croaked out, coughing. “What is this stuff?”

“Shut up!” Bren said, and kicked into his side. That ripped right through, and he felt pain and blood burst from his arm. The latter splashed onto the road, painting it red in one, long stroke, the back of her heel, that spike, its brush. She swung it back around and drove it home into his chest, shattering it again. That one didn’t even hit the skin, but there was a sizable hole in his new tunic, showing off the scar from when she actually did succeed. “Do you ever shut up!”

“Calm yourself, Bren,” Lon said. “Now’s not the time to lose your head.”

“What are you talking about?” Nick said. “Of course it is! If everything goes right, she’ll have mine tomorrow anyways. She’ll have a spare.”

If you even make it, he thought, moving his feet. Trying to, at least. The breaks in the membrane did give slack, made it possible for him to ease the tension off, but he didn’t want to press too f-

And once more he was forced to welcome the sweet embrace of sleep. His head rang again, jaw ached like all of the teeth were rotting at once –which he wouldn’t be surprised if they were. He couldn’t find anything close to a toothbrush in that world, so that would be ten months of letting everything fester and eat away, taking away what was once his greatest joys. The one part of him that could never be replaced, the part he meticulously cared for, also left to die... He was starting to notice a trend.

When he woke again, it wasn’t only the soft ringing and thumping of his head that awaited him. Light, bright, white light, also, greeted him, as well as an uproarious mob. It took his eyes a few minutes to focus, to accept the light, but he could make out the people, a mix of those that were left in Ralai and those he left behind in Leyshun. He took a moment longer to look at their faces, each one angry, hungry, wanting- no, needing something so fierce... but not a single one was Naiyala.

Once more, his body was trapped, but not because of the membrane. This time, he was strapped to a raised platform, his arms and legs spread out and his clothes removed. To his left stood Rylo, glaring at the crowd, his eyes sunken, a husk of their once proud, bright selves. Lon and Bren were to his right, each one holding an obsidian knife, making him wonder: Did those black edges shine from the light in their eyes, or did they shine from their gleam.

Rylo slowly turned to look at him, to see that he was finally awake... and the coldest, yet widest smile slithered across his face.

“The guest of honor is finally awake,” he said, his words laced with venom, lashing into him, cutting and poisoning to his very core. He held out his hand to Bren... who hesitated. His smile quickly turned to a sneer, and he shot the broken one a dirty look. “Give it! I make the first cut.”

Bren glared at him, but relented, handing him that blade. Rylo held it up to Nick’s nose, digging it into the right nostril hard enough to free it from his face, letting it bleed and letting him taste his blood as it ran over his lips. That, however, was not the first cut he was talking about; that was but a by-product of his rage, dying to be released.

“You’ve brought nothing but misery to us,” he declared, face rippling with rage. “Ever since you arrived in Leyshun, death has followed in your wake. I stood up for you. I tried to find the good in you, tried to appeal to your better part... what did I get in return? You killed my kin, slaughtered my soul tender, treated her like cattle! You ruined so many lives, believing to be better than us!” He looked up at Nick’s left hand, and his grip soon followed, holding it back against the wood. “How about we make you just like us!”

Nick heard a dark cackle bubble forth as Rylo removed the blade from his nose and brought it to his hand. Even as sharp as it was, Nick couldn’t help but scream as it sawed into the base of his pinky. Flesh squelched, bone popped, and blood washed down the flat as it was removed in seven, slow drags of the blade. Rylo held the removed digit up to Nick’s face... then ate it, crunching down hard as he moved to the right hand. He was slower with that one, savored Nick’s screams, how his body convulsed and spewed onto the platform, what was once the market now his executioner’s block.

He ate that one, too, then backed away, allowing Lon to step forth.

“You called us weak, liars to ourselves,” she said, digging her blade into his other nostril, severing that one, as well. She went a bit further than that, though, digging the tip in far enough to tear through into his gum line, running along his teeth. “You mocked our way of life while filling us with those stories from your world.”

She pulled it out and knelt, slicing off his two smallest toes on each foot. Blood pattered from their jagged gashes, and his vision started to fade again, voices becoming muffled. She continued on, calling him out on something, but he was already too far gone. He never had the highest pain threshold, and so he slipped off again.

Nick would say that saved his life, but, in truth, it was only delaying the inevitable. He doubted they would truly stop on his accord, but, for once, he prayed that they would. How he prayed and hoped that they were as bloodthirsty and primitive... and human as him. It was a long shot, a Hail Mary, which he owed about a million of when he came to. They had stopped, gone for the night, but he was left to hang there. Blood still rolled down his arms, his face. It filled his mouth, and dribbled out of his sundered toes, creating a shimmering pool in the moonlight.

It was a good thing he didn’t have a heart, it seemed. Otherwise, he would have died from blood loss a long time ago... but... that only lead to more questions. Questions he didn’t have any want to answer at that moment. For now, he wanted nothing more than to be free and get away. But how? He was tied up, and, not to mention, very weak. His body was not reacting well to the pain, and there was no telling what was on those blades before they were used to cut. His gums, especially, felt like they were on fire.

He ran his tongue along them, and winced as he felt that they were cut. He pressed his teeth a little, and it seemed they were cut well enough to loosen them, jiggling a little in their sockets. Luckily, he wasn’t in the mind to eat anything at the moment, so he could... let it heal before trying anything too strenuous. That only depended if he could live to let them heal, though, and he had no doubt that his loving audience would be up at exactly first light. When that was, though, was entirely up in the air. It could have been a minute from then, or an hour, which he doubted either amount was enough to get free.

So. There he was. Strung up and being tortured... Nick could make a reference to a certain individual, but he was no saint. He was not a good person at all, and refused to even consider him an equal to that man. Instead, he was more like the others who met their fates on that hill, which made him wonder: would a shit demon rise after he perished? If so, Nick wanted it named... Shemp.

He chuckled, regretting it as every part of him ached from the small outburst. But it was relieving, all the same. He was still alive, and it was time he relished those small things. Tomorrow, they would take more parts of him, reducing him to the contents of a snack bar, and he bet anything that it would be his Rocky Mountain oysters, next. As he noted, they were always more trouble than they were worth... There was only one person they were prized by, and He left Her a long time ago.

He shook his head, the small motion making the world spin as he started to swoon once more. No... his thoughts wouldn’t be of home. Not during his last few moments. Their memory shall not be tarnished by the monster he had become... It was the final gift he could give them.

Nick closed his eyes, and gulped. His throat was so dry, choking on what spit he managed to swallow down. Now, more than ever, he wished he really did die back in the office, when his heart gave its last. Ever since, his life had gown downhill. The worst part? This wasn’t even the bottom.

How retarded is that? He thought, coughing as he tried to chuckle. Death is a mercy. Torture is a mercy... Life has become Hell.

He heaved one more chuckle-turned-cough, then grunted, shoving against the bonds that held him as hard as he could. Again and again he thrust his entirety out, and counted how he was tied up as another boon: unlike crucifixion, his body didn’t need to be raised on its own. He didn’t need to struggle to stay up, so his muscles were able to focus entirely on thrusting away from it. They needed the Romans to teach them how to torture people proper, but they seemed perfectly fine with how they made their bindings. They didn’t give at all, and, after a few more thrusts, he was worn out.

He swallowed again, panting hard, but no spit quenched his thirst this time. Not a single iota of water gave him respite. The world spun, violently, shaking him to his core and pulling out what bile he had left, splashing down onto stony ground. Taking with it his final hope.

This was it. The end of the road at last... He hung his head, wanting nothing more than the rope around it to become like a blade and slit it. That was his last request: To deny them even further of their justice and ultimate retribution... How angry they would be, to be blue-balled when so close. The thought brought the last, weak smile to his l-

“Nick.”

Of course. Even in his last few moments, his brain had to torture him, had to give him false hope... What would it hurt to play along?

“Naiyala?” He croaked out, opening his eyes. He looked down, but, as he expected, no one was th-

“Hold on,” she said, grunting. The air was filled with a soft, scratching n- and his middle was the first part freed. The binding fell with a solid thump- and was met by the one around his neck. His feet were the next freed, saving the hands for when she came around, looking two eggs short of a carton. Insomnia will do that to a person; give how ashen her skin looked, she also had run a while. She undid his right hand first, allowed him to lean on her as she did the left, and held him tight, embracing him as the two of them collapsed under the wooden frame. She caressed his face, her eyes speckled with tears but holding such warmth. “Nick... I wish I got here sooner.”

“Better late than never,” he said, coughing. Her hand left his face a second but returned with a skin of water, poured into his waiting mouth. He gulped it, almost drowning himself in it, but he did not stop until that skin was almost empty, turning his face away –on the side that didn’t have the hole, of course. He heaved a few breaths, catching it at last, and nodded. “Thank you... but you shouldn’t have. I’m already dead.”

“Don’t talk like that,” she said, caressing his face again. She sniffed, tears pattering on his cheek, rubbed away by her thumb. “I’m here with you now... I never should have left you... I knew Rylo was alive. I knew the truth about what you did when I came to you, and I knew what dex had in mind... I’m so sorry, Nick.”

“It happens... but you should probably go. It’s not going to be long until morning, and I don’t think they’ll mind killing you with me.”

“I’m not leaving you. Never again... Never again.” She kissed him, pulled him into her embrace, and refused to let go as she stood. She had him lean on her, had him rely upon her until he could find his feet, but it turned out those two small toes did a lot more for his balance than he expected. He struggled to stay standing, her lips taking his pain, his groans, refusing to let go while his arms wrapped around her, holding her tight.

She broke the kiss at last, smiling at him, and swept back his hair, looking him in the eyes.

“Let’s get out of here, my soul tender.” She stated, and the sky burst with light. Her bliss faded into fear, urging him towards the road- but it seemed walking was too much for him. She tried to hold him up, but he fell to his knees all the same. “No! Come on.”

“Go!” He said, waving her away. The cavern to the right echoed with cheer and jeers, feet marching up, unified in one, booming dirge. “Save yourself.”

“I won’t leave without you. I cannot leave without... I cannot live without you, Nick.”

She grunted, sobbing as he was pulled to his feet again, and this time he managed to keep upright as they hurried across the mound, taking loping steps. The voices above turned from cheer to anger, seeing the ropes loosed and the platform emptied, but it wasn’t long before their anger was rekindled shrieking and chasing after. At their rate, they would catch up in no time.

All because of him.

“We’re not going to make it,” he grumbled, panting, and cried out as they made it to the bottom of the mound. His feet gave way completely again and he rolled free from her grasp, splaying out into the grass. She wrenched at him, but he tried to shoo her away. “Please. Go on without me.”

“I told you! I’m not leaving y-”

“Then you’ll die!”

“So be it!” She yipped, but caught him as she succeeded in pulling him up. It was a sacrifice, though; the mob was almost upon them. She shook her head and turned them around, panting. “We just have to make it to the stable.”

“That won’t work. Horses hate me; they’ll run as soon as I...” That gave him a thought. “Yeah. Let’s get to the stable.”

They both pressed as hard as they could, staying a few yards ahead of the mob, and it wasn’t long before the horses were screaming. The meager little stable thundered and quaked at their approach, and even cracked and splintered as they flung themselves in. It didn’t have a door to speak of, little more than eight walls inside a tiny hut that housed each horse, but there was enough to stow hoes and pitchforks against the left wall.

Three of the horses simply died upon their entry, their poor hearts unable to take it, but the one in back, the heartier fellow that Nick knew all too well, eyed him with such fire. Good old Rasputin; Nick urged Naiyala to that horse, raising its hoofs threateningly.

“How’s it going, dickless?” Nick said, and threw himself against the wall. He might not be able to balance himself, but the wall had withstood far worse. He slunk along it, behind Rasputin, and waved for Naiyala to do the same. Rasputin whinnied louder, snorted, frothed at the mouth... but would rather cause a scene than run or die like his brethren. Indeed, the others also started dropping, but Rasputin kept kicking and screaming. “Climb on.”

“What?” Naiyala blurted.

“You heard me. We don’t exactly have time to argue. They’re going to be upon us any moment. Get on.”

“O-okay.”

She fought to get on the angry horse, bucked off twice before she could even get a handhold, but, by the time he could see the mob gathering outside the door, she had clambered on. She reached back to him.

But he gave the horse a quick smack on the rump, causing it to race off.

She cried out, begged for him, but Rasputin was out the door before she had a chance to do anything else, barreling over the front of the mob as he did. Nick ducked in the stall, and listened... smiling as they did exactly as he expected. They screamed and gave chase after the horse, their feet thundering away across the plain, leaving him all by himself.

Sorry, Naiyala, he thought, heaving a weary sigh. We’ll meet again. I’m sure of it... I just... need a moment.

He closed his eyes, slid down the wall, and welcomed sleep one last time.

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