By Day My Limbs, by Night My Mind, for Thee, and for Myself No Quiet Find
“Are you sure you’ve given yourself enough time? The crossing won’t be easy.”
“I’m sure, Galen. Thank you.”
After two solid days of rest on the safety of their hill, Althea’s muscles and hurt ankle had recovered enough to make the swift crossing across Shimmer Plain. They started to pack away all the supplies they had and began to mentally prepare themselves for the arduous road ahead.
In the plains there was nowhere to hide, and every moving, living thing became a target.
The plains had been mostly abandoned after a few short months following the first coming of the Mist. The openness of the plains presented unique problems that made them exceptionally treacherous. Most villages within plain regions were abandoned. The people found themselves without a natural barrier to use as a shield like a river, hill, or mountain. They quickly discovered the Immortuos were able to come at landmarks like their homes from all sides, and they met their ends with nowhere to run. Most villages within Shimmer Plain or Golden Wheat to the North were nothing but empty shells of abandoned homes and dismembered, unburied bodies.
“You about ready?” Althea asked Galen. “We need to start as early as possible; I don’t think we should be in the plains when the sun sets.”
“I agree. Just a few more things, and we’re good.”
The way they spoke to each other now, the way that they regarded each other, was no longer the way a charge regarded an escort, or strangers spoke even in forced politeness. In these few days, their relationship had changed from two strangers setting out with a common goal to a man and a woman who made a bond between themselves and set out with each other and for each other. Their trust with one another was set in a deep and natural place within their very souls. It was no longer a link borne out of necessity, but an alliance of the truest kind.
However, Galen had to hide from his eyes just how deep his ties with her had become. The nature of his caring and concern for her was something he couldn’t understand fully or even rationally explain. He never once believed in the myth of “love at first sight.” Such thoughts are for children and naïve fools. Love takes time, love takes patience, and love takes understanding. But the more he thought about it, the more he knew that while his attraction for her stunning physical features were unquestionable and most certainly caught his attention at the beginning, he found that was not what drew his eyes to her so often now. The feelings grew the more he knew her and the more he understood her; the depth of her character that fought and persevered despite the most monstrous of haunting challenges dazzled beyond physical beauty. Perhaps he was falling in love even in such a short time. Well, at least he had acknowledged devotion and admiration towards her. But, no, this felt like something much more.
When Galen finished his final preparations, they started slowly down the steep hill. Once at the bottom, they stood at the borders of the Shimmer Plain. It stretched out for miles and seemed much more daunting as they stood at the foot of it versus what they had assessed from the top of their hill. They looked at each other worryingly both acknowledging the possibility that they would not be able to cross the entire span of it before dark. The Hill of the Castle was very distant and barely held a grey outline in the distance.
“How are we going to make this across in a day?” Galen sighed to himself. His mind was racing with each potential danger and pitfall while still being worried about Althea’s ankle and whether or not it was up for this.
Althea put a hand to his shoulder and replied, “One step at a time. Starting with this one.” She then took the lead and began a light jog to set the pace. Galen, hopeful but still apprehensive, followed alongside her.
Their bodies were well in shape at having been trained to be fit for survival in the wild. Though they hadn’t taken on a task of this size recently, they were both able to keep up a paced jog for a long duration. Their journey was in silence, as much silence as they could manage, and they kept constant vigilance against any potential Immortuos groups that could be found in their vicinity.
When their bodies could no longer keep up the pace of the jog, they slowed to a fast-paced walk. They paused only for a moment as they reached for water and food from their packs which they consumed while still walking. They couldn’t afford to stop any more than absolutely necessary. The very air seemed to hold its breath with them as they kept up their guard and heightened their senses to spot any other presence besides theirs. But with the stillness in the air came a more oppressive heat from the sun. Remarkable what tree cover and a breeze could do to lessen its intensity. In the woods, and especially in the river, the world was almost like winter. But here away from cover and devoid of the air moving, it seemed more like summer.
They hadn’t accounted for this heat and it effects when evaluating their water needs, and their bodies ached for more than they allowed themselves to keep up supplies. There were wells in the towns of Shimmer Plain, but no rivers to resupply. But that was an option they were hesitant to take given the dangers in town.
The sun was moving across the sky much faster than they had been able to cross the plain. While their destination became more in focus, they soon began to realize that they would not reach the borders of Shimmer Plain before nightfall.
“What are we going to do?” Althea asked short of breath after another jogging spurt. They dared not stop, but they could no longer keep such an unrealistic pace.
“I don’t know. None of the options are good,” Galen replied also short of breath.
“Agreed. We can’t just keep going through the night. Our bodies are too dehydrated from rationing our water and exhausted from running all day. We’d collapse before we reached the end. And being helplessly spent anywhere is not something I’m happy with.”
“Yeah, but the only other option is stopping for the night in a village filled with hiding places for the Immortuos and no defense in a house and no cover in the streets.”
They both finally stopped their fast-paced walking and bent over to catch their breath. They looked at each other with a distressed and nearly defeated look. The more they caught their breath, the more they realized just how thoroughly exhausted they were. Their muscles started to cramp painfully with their mind becoming fuzzy and dizzy with just how badly they needed water. It seems the choice was being made for them.
“Lesser of two evils, I guess,” Galen said still trying to catch his breath. “We can either go back to the last village those miles back or hope to find another one soon further ahead.”
“Damn,” Althea responded. “I do not want to go back. We gained so much ground since that last little village. I say let’s try a little further.”
“Ok, I’m with you.”
They gave themselves a few more moments to gather their last reserves. With a mutual nod to each other, they set out again at a jog pace to try and race the setting of the sun. Their chests ached more in desperation and sinking hope than the burning in their lungs from their pace. They had no idea what they would do if they couldn’t find a village soon. And once they did, what condition that village would be in or how safe they would find themselves.
Their feet started to stumble and lose stability as their remaining strength was spent. Galen’s feet found a small unevenness in the earth and sent him falling to the ground. Althea stopped, turned to see him on the ground, and ran back to him to help him up. “God, Galen. I’m so sorry. We should have turned back.”
“No, I still think it was a good call,” Galen replied struggling to get up even with her help. Both of their voices seemed so far away to each other as they became more lightheaded. Their muscles were screaming, and the light was quickly fading. Soon they wouldn’t be able to see well except the light of the moon. Given their fatigue and their nearly unresponsive limbs, they would be incredibly vulnerable in the open. All they could do was keep going no matter what. They couldn’t afford to give up now.
“I’m ok,” Galen informed her as he finally got steady on his feet. “Can’t be much farther.”
They both held onto each other as they walked at a slow and steady new pace. They felt as though they were trudging through deep sand, and their spirits were reaching desperation and panic. The darkness spread not only on the plains but on their frames of mind. How can one search for the light when the spread of the darkness is ever so pervasive?
But just as all those who battle for the light meet some hope in the end, the outline of a rather large village appeared before them at just as night fell upon them. It seemed a mirage, too good and too convenient to be true. They had finally come to what they were searching for so desperately. However, their elation was only fleeting as they remembered that this option was only the lesser of two incredibly dangerous evils.
Before entering the village, they drank their fill of the water they had saving only a little for the morning. They would find a well in town and restock before setting out again.
They walked the streets of a village long abandoned, and this one seemed larger than most they had passed before. It was still too defenseless to fortify, and therefore all the people left alive fled to anywhere else that they could find better. Without realizing it, they clasped their hands together and kept close as they passed houses and small merchant stalls and shops. They were almost holding their breath they were trying to be so quiet. Their eyes strained against the shadows created in the light of the moon against the deserted structures.
Every so often, they found the decaying parts of bodies ruthlessly torn apart by Immortuos. Althea unintentionally slowed her pace and looked in horror at the site. The ground before these bodies still held the red stain of their blood. The site was savage, the mutilation ferocious. It was the kind of vision that would haunt any sane person for the rest of their lives. And Althea knew in an instant that she would carry the weight of what she was witnessing until she died.
Galen wasn’t sure why she had slowed down. Sites like these he had seen before and didn’t care to linger over. He had seen his village done this way, the ones who couldn’t retreat in time. He may not have held any long endearment to those lost by the time it came, but he still felt the burden of their gruesome end. But it was different for Althea. Each one of these souls that were lost as a result of this Mist weighed on her conscience. These people were gone now, painfully, because she held the heart of a psychopath.
After getting the feel of the village, they decided to camp out the rest of the night in the most defensible structure they could find. There was a small kitchen building resting with a shared wall against a communal dining structure. These buildings were usually for grand gatherings, celebrations, and town meetings. This building seemed to hold the kitchen to facilitate these occasions. But with one wall protected against the other building, it was one less access to fortify. The building itself wasn’t large at all; it could probably hold maybe ten people at maximum. There were so many large cabinets and places to hide, and they checked each space thoroughly for Immortuos. Every cabinet and door opened came with overwhelming anxiety and muscled tensed to run.
Much to their relief, the building was completely empty besides their presence. They let out a sigh of relief. “Hey,” Althea called out to Galen, “take a look at this.” Galen looked over to find Althea inside one of the larger storage pantry units. She had her foot on something.
“What is that?”
“It’s an underground storage area for foods that are best kept in a dark place to make them last longer.” She opened an almost invisible door on the floor to reveal stairs and what resembled something between a room and a nook. It looked just big enough to hold two or maybe three people. “If we closed this door to the main pantry and then closed this hatch to the basement room, we would be not only well hidden but well-fortified. We’d both be able to sleep and get a full night’s rest.”
“That’s genius! How did you think to look here?!”
Althea gave out an embarrassed laugh, “When I was a really young girl, I always liked little pastries. And in my village, they used to keep cream filled pastries in a cellar like this. I was a bit of a thief.” Galen looked at her little sheepish smile and felt warm inside. He thought about how beautiful a child she must have been. She must have filled the room with such innocent delight. It had to be true, for the woman she was today gave him the same feeling.
She descended the stairs first making slow progress in the dim light. “Ok,” she called out, “I’ve reached the bottom. Not more than a few meters down. Be sure to close the door before you come down.”
Galen turned around and closed the large door to the main pantry behind him and braced it with a few shelves as best he could in the darkness. “Ok! It’s done!” Then he turned in the darkness he found himself in. He let out a chuckle though when he found he couldn’t see his hands in front of his face.
“What are you laughing at?” Althea called up to him.
“I just realized that I’m going to probably tumble on my way down. I can’t tell if my eyes are opened or closed.”
“Oh, that is a problem. Hold on.” Althea then thought about how she could help. She thought of an idea that may work as she held out her hands palms facing each other. She closed her eyes and concentrated very hard on the light within her. She softly began to hum, and a beautiful golden light danced between her hands from the music she made and the light she guarded within her.
Galen felt like his breath was seized from his body at the sight that appeared before him. His angel was bathed in a radiant, golden glow. It was like seeing every good feeling he sensed from her being manifested in dancing rays coming from her body. Every passing thought he had about her being an angel...it was real. He would never have doubt as to her goodness. Nothing as beautiful as her could ever be anything but pure grace and virtue. Even if he hadn’t fully had faith that such things truly ever existed in a world that had decayed so thoroughly, he knew now that some benevolence was left.
“Can you see well enough?”
Galen shut his mouth feeling like the biggest idiot in the world having stared at her so dumbfoundedly. “Yes, sorry.” He started to descend the stairs and reached the bottom. He felt warmth from the glow that was a welcome change to the coldness in the cellar they found themselves in. Both of their faces were softly lit by the glow that was now shared between them.
“May I?” Galen finally asked. Althea nodded and offered her hands still held facing each other. He slowly and hesitantly reached out to hold her hands that produced the light. He didn’t care if his request seemed absurd or idiotic, he had to know. He had to hold this in his hands if only once and only for a little while. As his hands touched hers, the light wrapped around his hands as well and changed from the golden color to one of pure white. The brilliance dazzled like the sun in their eyes, and they both smiled in delight. To Galen, touching the light was like reaching into the deep memories that held one’s heart in bliss and contentment. He was suddenly a boy playing with his friends, he was in his mother’s arms hearing her sing, he was with his friends laughing in the fields, he was seeing her for the very first time. The light even changed for Althea then. For the first time in over a year, she felt worthy of it. For the first time in over a year, she felt like someone beyond the victim, beyond the pain, and more than the sum of her tragic past. She was once again a gifted guardian of light.
Galen hadn’t meant to do it, and he hadn’t realized he had done it, but he pulled her hands towards his chest and rested them there. The distance between them was almost nothing at all. In so doing, the light spread and wrapped around both of them entirely covering every inch of their bodies. And the spectacle was lost on them as all they could see was the caring in their companion’s eyes. Galen couldn’t be sure if Althea’s affections were the same as his, but in this moment holding her hands and sharing this bond, he didn’t care. This moment he had, if it was all he would ever get, he’d hold it as enough.
Althea sensed them both moving into each other. Not just him, but she had closed her own distance between them. She painfully brought herself out of this spell knowing now was not the place nor the time. “I think,” she said whispering and trying her best not to struggle with the words, “I think it would be best if we started to rest now. We’re both exhausted.”
Galen did well hiding the pain and disappointment. He knew she was right, and he really was exhausted. Besides, romance was the last thing he should be pushing. “You’re right. I can barely stand up.” They looked at the cellar around them as best they could still holding the light fading from her hands.
“Not much room, huh?” Althea said innocently with a smile.
“We’ll have to get kind of...cozy.”
“Ha ha,” she lightheartedly laughed. “Not much else we can do. I’ll be glad for it, honestly. It’s so cold down here.”
Galen squeezed her hand with affectionate pressure, and he felt the light that had faded still warm in his heart. But he then obediently released her hands and they both found their way to the floor. Althea felt around her pack and took out her small blanket that was barely enough to cover one of them. She thought for a moment, and then handed the blanket to Galen. When he felt the cloth being passed to him, he protested not wanting to take it away from her.
“No, it’s ok,” Althea started to explain. “Listen, since you’re bigger than me, you can hold me and keep me warm better than a blanket, but since no body heat is at your back, you should take the blanket. Unless,” she hesitated suddenly feeling awkward, “you’d rather not.”
Galen didn’t speak to answer. Instead he took the blanket and wrapped his arms around her waist and help lay her to the ground pressed against his chest. In the darkness, she could not see his contented smile and he could not see hers. But they soon fell fast asleep together in warmth and physical safety.
If only the peace of this moment could last in dreams.
’Tis Now the Very Witching Time of Night
Althea could hear fire crackling, and she opened her eyes at the strangeness of the sound. She felt no arm encircling her in warmth and comfort. As she turned around in the dim light, she saw that she was alone. She was no longer in the cellar. As she looked around the room, she realized she was no longer safe.
The fire she heard was in the bedchambers of the room, and her body was compelled to the side of the fireplace at the far end of the room. She could hear the sound of the door shut ominously behind her. She could feel the fear and panic rise within her chest and hold tight against her lungs and quicken her heart. She closed her eyes to focus all her concentration to wake. She silently begged and prayed to be the master of this nightmare and escape it. But the dark and powerful Magic that had pulled her to this place, having her both there and not there, would not allow any will of hers to pull herself back from it.
“I can feel you’re closer now.” Althea heard his voice from within the shadows of his grand, curtained bed slithering through the air like a serpent.
“Durai, let me go.” Althea had no power behind her plea and only went to show just how terrified she truly was. She despaired to know that, just like that, she was his prisoner again. But the veil of his treachery was lifted, and she could see clearly where before she was blinded.
“No, Dove. I don’t think I will yet. I have waited so very long. I find that my patience is gone now.” His figure emerged from the bed dressed in fine bed robes that flowed with the graceful heaviness of fine silk. “I’m glad to see you’ve dressed for the occasion,” he replied gesturing to her.
Althea looked down at herself and found that her appearance in the place had been manipulated into false clothing. Another trick inside this spell. She saw that she was now in a deep green negligee also of heavy silk. The length of the soft dressing gown reached the floor and barely covered her feet in the front and trailed just slightly in the back. There were no sleeves to show the smooth skin of her bare arms. In the coolness of the room, she saw and felt the goosebumps on her arms appear. How could this be in a dream? These sensations were painfully real. The neckline was lower than she had ever had on before in all her life reaching almost to her waist. The curves of her breast made subtle shows into the exposed neckline and were teasingly alluring. She closed her eyes in torment and self-conscious shame at being put into something so obscene and revealing.
“Durai, this is disdainful. Give me back my own clothes.” Althea could feel more strength behind her words as she started to allow herself to be angry. She realized then that before she had not allowed herself to feel anger at him. She had felt so much because of him such as shame, humiliation, betrayal, but she never allowed the anger that she had towards him to have its moment in her mind. In a moment of clarity, she realized that the anger was not a weakness, for it was the part of her that loved herself and wouldn’t stand for this treatment any more.
“You don’t like my gift? I’m hurt. I think it becomes you most…beguilingly. But if you insist on being without it, I could have it removed.” He had closed the distance between the two of them by now and looked down at her revealed chest and repressed every screaming urge to caress the parts of her that he had dreamed of for over a year.
“You know very well that I did not mean that, Durai? Don’t be any more crude.” She could feel herself tremble with the tempest of emotions raging inside of her heart like wind out of control blowing about the leaves in autumn. Durai could see in her eyes her instability and the weakness she was desperate not to show.
“Oh my dear darling Dove, crude is what I simply cannot wait to be with you finally here.” He lowered his face to rest on top of her head and he inhaled her scent deeply. He had so long missed her natural, sweet smell.
“Why have you brought me here?”
“I told you already,” Durai said forcefully as he turned from her then to pick up a glass of wine he had on the small table next to the fireplace. “I have waited far too long to have you back, and you have yet to arrive. So you come when I call you. And I’ve called you.”
“You do know that this is not what you will get when I come back to stop everything you have set in motion,” Althea said still unable to will her limbs to move. “I will do all that I can, I will bring an end to all of this if I possibly can, and then I’m as good as gone again. I’ve learned so much stealth while I was away, you may not even know I’ve come until I’ve gone.”
Durai took a drink of his wine and savored the sweet heat of it. He then walked over to her gliding like a predatory animal standing once again in front of her. “You really believe it will be as easy for you as that? What has all this time out in the wild done to your mind?” He let out a low and taunting laugh that made her blood boil. “Althea,” the sound of her name in his voice made her wretch, “it really won’t be long now. I have felt just how close you’ve come to me now, and they are looking for you. Oh yes,” he continued seeing her panicked confusion, “men have been sent to fetch you to me. How long do you think you could evade the palace’s trained guards? I don’t suspect long. And then…”
He lifted a hand suddenly, and Althea found herself actually flinch. Durai smiled at her, and indeed it was loving. If it could be believed that the devil were capable of it, he truly did love her. His raised hand then moved to her face and brushed aside a stray wisp of hair back into place behind her ear. His hand then moved slowly down her neck and rested at the small of her back just resting where her alluring, curving swell began.
The lucid feel of his hands on her body brought a single tear rolling down Althea’s cheek. Memories invaded her mind then. She could feel every time he had ever touched her, every inch of her that had been possessed by him and invaded by all of him. She felt the lasting burn of every pierce and the painful piercing of every caress in their long history of lovemaking. “Please, Durai, please let me go.”
“No,” he said with a domineering and commanding tone of finality. “I told you. I let you go once, and that will NOT happen again.” She saw his eyes glow brighter, and she knew better than to think it was an illusion.
“Please,” she pleaded still unable to move, still unable to wake herself away from where she wished she could escape.
Durai saw the tear as it made its way down her face. He lifted his hand to it and wiped it away with the tenderest touch of a single finger. “Now, now,” he whispered so close to her face that she could feel the movement of his lips. “You’ll be with me again. I’m going to give you the entire world, and you will give me all of you in return. We’ll be happy again.” With that, he placed his lips gently upon hers. She could feel then his pain and desperation in that kiss. If he were any other person, she might pity the ache she felt from him. He was a man begging again for the woman he loved.
But soon she felt the familiar, ardent passion return, and with it the power of dominance in his kiss. He parted her lips forcefully with his and demanded her love in return. His gentleness faded, and he was again the monster of her nightmares who would stop at nothing to consume every part of her over and over again. He would never be sated; he would always hunger for her.
Durai could feel her chest rise and fall with her heavy, frightened breathing. The alluring sensation of her breasts brushing against his chest sent exquisite shivers down into every sensual part of him. He could smell her floral smell stronger now even in this illusion. To him as well, each touch was solid and lifelike and he relished the agony of the anticipation of having her fully in his arms soon. Though his kiss had been solid, it was not truly her. Though the heart against his chest gave solid pressure against his robes, it wasn’t truly her. But it would be all of her soon. Very soon.
“Durai, I wasn’t happy. I left because I was very unhappy. I was dying inside, and you were the one killing me.”
“No,” he said again. “There were too many other things that were drawing the life out of you. Too many eyes following you hungrily, too much expectation drowning you in responsibility. It’s different now. Baldrik’s gone, so you’ll only be mine now. You’ll see how this time will be better.”
Althea felt herself choke in her disbelief and the repugnancy of his words. “Better?” she gasped and nearly spat at him. “Baldrik’s tormented end is in no way better!”
Durai’s wicked smile returned to his face as he looked down on her face flushed delightfully red in her anger. “Oh, you mean this isn’t what you wanted when you left him to face his misery alone? This isn’t what you envisioned when you abandoned him to a life of unassisted suffering?”
“No, Durai!” Althea said as she raised her voice. “Don’t you do that. You don’t know anything, and you cannot make me feel guilt over him!”
“You’re right,” Durai deeply whispered. She could feel the vibrations of his voice deep in her bones as they shook her from the inside. “I don’t need to. You already have that guilt, don’t you? I know you’re smart enough to know what is yours to bear. And if you don’t blame yourself, you’ll still have to face someone else who does.”
Althea suddenly felt the terror and dismay that she had done so well fighting against suddenly break through the guards she had mounted. She was suddenly at the mercy of fear that seized her soul. Durai could see the sudden loss of her control, and his smile deepened along with his embrace of her. He pressed her body into his stronger than before and looked down at her terrified eyes.
“Oh yes, Dove. Her Majesty is most angry with you.”
Althea screamed without knowing she was back inside of her real, living body, back where she was hiding in the abandoned village where quite was essential. When she realized what she had done, she curled up into herself and clasped both hands around her mouth. And all she was left with was all-consuming loss. The feeling of indescribable loss snuffed out all of her will, all of her hope, and she withered within herself in renewed despair.
Then she felt the arms around her again from behind. This time she wasn’t afraid, she wasn’t mistaken. His hold on her was strong and stalwart. He didn’t say a word, neither of them did. They stayed silent for a long time listening for signs that they had been discovered. They waited in the darkness for an hour, but no sign came. Luck had at least been generous in this.
“Were you gone again?” she heard him whisper finally. She nodded to affirm his response, and he held her tighter. She wished more than ever that it weren’t true. It couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Please let it all be false, and let his words be vicious lies spun with the shadows bread forth from the evil he conjured from. She begged silently into the darkness, but only silent darkness responded back.
And in the darkness all around her, Galen held her body that wracked itself in silent sobbing.
“Mireya. Please no.”
No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!