The Muse's Touch

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The Elder God

Time had been standing still.

Once more, the multitude of hands surrounded her, pulling and tugging. Paige’s eyes snapped open as motion resumed, scanning the chaos unfolding in front of her. Anna stumbled in an effort to stop herself, face turning towards Paige with a new understanding in her eyes. It was proof enough that what happened in the twilight of dreams did, in fact, happen.

“No, she isn’t for you!” Anna held out her hand in the universal stop sign. There was a hint of power in her command. No one was under any illusion that the witch controlled the thing that had kept her alive all these years. But what Paige didn’t expect was for the creature to hesitate as if confused. Anna must have never tried to deprive it of its prey before.

It was enough as the hands holding her slackened, just a smidgen. Not enough to escape, but at least to free an arm. But it was too little too late. It had already pulled the lower half of her body into the portal.

“Paige!” Maeve cried out in desperation.

She turned to behold the grim face of her guardian. Maeve nodded then swung back to throw the Claímh Solais towards her. Paige reached out with her free arm, hope flaring within her as her hand closed upon its hilt. And then the creature pulled the rest of her through the portal.

Madness. That was the only way to describe what she saw. There was no up or down, no sky or land to orient herself. Even space had planets and stars as references but here, there was nothing. The light emanating from her sword was her only source of comfort. And consternation for the creature.

In some ways, Paige almost wished she saw nothing instead. Here, the full extent of the eldritch horror threatened to overwhelm her mind, to drive her to the brink of insanity. A multitude of slitted red eyes dotted along the top, all trained on her with hungering intent. Its maw opened, rows upon rows of sharp-pointed teeth dripping with venom, waited to tear her flesh apart.

The terror manifested not only in appearance but psychically as well. A pressure pushed at Paige’s mind like tentacles slithering and probing to seek entrance to her deeper psyche. There was a reason that pop culture had later added to the Lovecraftian mythos that the Elder Gods drove people insane. Or was that how these creatures gained that power?

Whatever it was, the light she held seemed to anger it. Although it was unwilling to let go of her, the hands ceased pulling her in further. Instead, it shook her, as if trying to dislodge the sword from her hands. Paige was never a fan of rollercoaster rides in the first place, but this was a thousand times worse. With both hands, she clung to the sword, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried her best not to hurl.

“Keep your eyes open. Stare at a fixed spot. Imagine a wall.” A voice startled Paige and she snapped her eyes open. Another sentient being was the last she expected in this space. Rather than trying to seek the source of the words, she followed the instructions, imagining a steel wall encircling herself.

A new song began to resonate in her head, one that coursed through the recesses of her mind, cleansing the small stains and footholds the creature left behind. It called to something within her and on pure instinct, Paige recalled that heat that burned through her and sent them all into the twilight of dreams. It came gentler this time, a soothing warmth that raced through her. With conscious effort, she directed it to the sword in her hand and her eyes snapped open, glittering in the strength of her newly awakened power.

The Claímh Solais flared to life brighter than even when Maeve wielded the sword. Paige understood innately that it was reacting to her direct descendancy from its original owner. Without missing a heartbeat, she plunged the sword toward the nest of limbs that held her.

The creature’s screech was enough to drive any human to insanity. But at the height of her powers, Paige only hacked and cut until she freed herself. It wasn’t enough. Using the mass of limbs she had just finished detaching from the monster, she launched herself straight towards its gaping maw. One stroke upwards, another down, she felt slime, the thing’s blood oozing out from the cuts she made. Splashes landed on her skin and burned and ate at her like acid but she was beyond pain by now.

“You need to aim for the heart. There!” A ghostly finger pointed just below the gaping maw and it took Paige seconds before she spied it. There, just below the mouth was a tiny orb, pulsing red. Paige plunged her sword straight into it and felt the orb shatter under the impact.

The creature let out the most blood curdling scream yet. But Paige grinned in triumph as the creature thrashed in its death throes.

“The portal. You have to go. Now.”

Paige cast a glance over her shoulder to see the portal begin to close. Her eyes swept across, finally sighting the source of guidance. A figure of a lanky man with a mop of light brown hair and rimmed glasses gestured urgently towards the only way home.

“Come with me,” Paige called out. There was no way in hell she was going to leave someone here, especially someone that helped her. Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed his hand with her free one, relieved that she found a solid wrist to hold on to. Again, using the creature’s own body as a launchpad, she pushed off until she threw herself through the portal, tumbling and rolling over her sides in the most ungraceful landing of all time until she laid to rest on the flat of her back.

She was back. She was alive.

Every part of her hurt.

“Paige!” Maeve and Dante’s faces hovered into her vision as she blinked, readjusting to the dimness of the basement.

“Ow.”

Wonder and awe highlighted her guardian’s features. Funny how she never quite noticed that though Maeve had as neutral a face as Dante most of the time, her eyes were the most expressive thing. Paige gave a weak smile then tilted her head to study Dante. From him, she sensed worry and newfound respect. Odd, she never could read Dante before. Was this heightened empathy another new ability of hers?

From the corner of her eye, she spotted the one that she had pulled through the portal with her. He was staring at himself. Paige didn’t blame him for he was translucent. Was he some kind of spirit? Wait, everyone was reacting as if it was just her that fell out of the portal. Did no one see him?

“Paige?” Dante passed a hand over her face.

Maybe she was just hallucinating. Did concussions cause hallucinations? She refocused her gaze. “Davin’s okay. He should be awake at your place by now.”

The incubus nodded, but the concern did not leave his face. Oh, he was worried about her.

When she tried to move, she groaned. “I think I may have knocked my head a little.” She tried to lift the hand that still held onto the sword but winced. “I think maybe I knocked my entire body around a little.”

Maeve chuckled, the sound awash with relief. She leaned down and took the sword from her, sheathing it in its scabbard. “Can you walk?”

The floor was nice and cool against her clammy skin. It tempted Paige to say no. Moving meant more aches. But she also knew she couldn’t stay here forever. “I think so.”

Dante knelt beside her and wrapped an arm around her waist while looping her arm over his neck. He hoisted her up, making sure he was well balanced enough to take most of her weight.

Less than twenty paces away, Anna laid in a crumpled heap. Paige jerked her head towards her. “Help me over there.”

The three of them hobbled over. Anna stared up at them with a soft laugh. “Hello, Godslayer.”

“Hello, witch.” The title didn’t sit well with her but Paige was too damn tired to correct her. “Come on, get up. Davin made you a promise and I’m going to help him keep it.”

Another laugh, even weaker than the first. Anna shook her head. “It’s too late for me. I’ve lived way past my time.” She turned and nodded towards the space where the portal occupied before. “That was the only thing keeping me alive.”

“I’m sorry.” When Paige was hellbent on slaying the thing, she wasn’t thinking much of the consequences. It was just instinct. Hers or the sword’s, she wasn’t sure.

Anna shook her head. “Don’t be. This was inevitable. And now I’m free.” She smiled and Paige saw the smile that would have attracted Davin all those years ago. A mix of innocence and a certain joie de vivre. “Davin’s a changed man. Take care of him. Love well.”

And with that, she faded until only ashes were left.

They stood there, staring at the woman who had caused such destruction.

“Rest in peace,” Paige murmured.

“You know, she’s right.”

Paige and Dante turned their gazes towards Maeve. A new sinking feeling settled in Paige’s stomach. “What do you mean?”

Claímh Solais is a god slaying weapon of our people. Using it to slay a god of another race…” Maeve glanced back towards where the portal was. “That’ll have consequences. One way or another, your reputation as a god slayer will spread.” She nodded at that space. “And they’ll come for you.”

Behind Maeve, the spirit nodded in agreement.

Great. Paige groaned.

“Problem for another day. We need to get home.” Dante dug into his pocket with his free hand and fished out his phone. “I have twenty missed calls from Davin.”

It worked. Davin got back to his body. Despite the pain pulsing her body, her lips spread into the most idiotic grin. Hallucination temporarily forgotten, she nodded again. “Yeah, let’s go.”

The spirit followed. Paige opened her mouth to speak them closed it again when he shook his head. As soon as they made their way out of the house, he floated off in the opposite direction without so much as a goodbye. Everything in him spoke of an urgency she didn’t understand but there was no way to ask. She didn’t even get a name.

It wasn’t until she was sitting in the car with Maeve driving through the night, that Paige dared to examine her wounds. The monster’s blood had left patches of blackened skin ringed with red angry blisters. Bruises, blue and yellow, blossomed around her limbs and her midsection where the hands had held her tight in their grasps. Her fingers found a bump on the back of her head where she must have banged it when she rolled out of the portal. She closed her eyes to breathe through the pain then shuddered as the image of the angry red eyes flashed in her mind like an afterimage.

“Home.”

The single word from Dante was enough to jolt her out of the developing nightmare. It wasn’t hers but Paige looked up and thought she had never seen a place so welcoming. They would be okay. She was going to be okay.

The door flung open as Dante and Maeve helped Paige out of the car. Davin paused, eyes widening as he regarded the sorry state she knew they all were in. Paige flashed him a weak smile and watched as he swept down the steps in long strides that carried him within a split second to her side. Both brother and guardian stepped back.

“Davin,” Paige began, emotions making her voice hoarse.

She has no chance for more words as in one swift motion, Davin swept her off her feet. Over his shoulder, she glimpsed Ainsley and Lillian peering out from the door. Ainsley’s tears flowed freely and Lillian patted her on her back.

Her family. She made it back to them after all.

“Thank all the powers above and below.” Davin’s choked with his own relief as he buried his face in her hair. With more care, he carried her inside.

“Wait.” As soon as they entered the house, Paige tugged at Davin’s shirt until he paused. She reached out a hand out to Ainsley and Lillian. “I’m back.”

Lillian patted her shoulder. “Well done, Paige.”

Ainsley took her extended hand and squeezed it. The long-time friends needed no words between the two of them. Later, later they would exchange stories but for now, it was enough to know they were alive, and they all survived.

Davin cleared his throat. “If you’ll excuse us, I need to tend to our warrior here.”

Paige ducked her head and blushed. Both women, young and old, gave a small laugh and waved at them to go.

He wasted no time in carrying her to the bedroom she had left him in, taking the stairs two at a time, though he was careful not to jostle her. By the time he laid Paige down on the bed, her eyes drooped with weariness though the pain was too insistent to let her sleep.

As Davin began to peel off her clothes, she reached up to stay his hand. “It doesn’t look pretty.”

His eyes travelled up to meet hers and brushed the skin above her arm with one finger. “I figured.”

“Wait.”

When Davin made no move, Paige swallowed. “Anna…” This was harder than she expected. “Anna didn’t make it. I didn’t know when I killed the thing.” There was so much more to say but her thoughts were choppy, bordering on incoherence.

Something akin to grief flicker in his face and his sad smile was full of regret.

“She saved me. She tried to keep that thing from dragging me through the portal and it gave me enough room to catch and bring the sword with me to kill the thing.” Now Paige closed her eyes, knowing she was making little sense. “She said to me in the end, that she’s now free. I think she’s at peace.”

Davin nodded once in acknowledgement and bowed his head in silence.

A knock interrupted them. Davin rose to open the door and returned with a tray full of first aid supplies.

When she tried to move, Davin shook his head. “Let me take care of you, please.”

Paige was too tired to protest but she dared not close her eyes lest she saw the creature again.

He didn’t bother to tug her clothes off. Instead, he took a pair of scissors and began to cut each piece off. They were too ragged and torn anyway to keep. As each piece of material parted to reveal the extent of the damage on her body, Davin sucked in a breath.

“Let’s agree to never do that again, okay?”

“Do…?” Paige blinked at him.

“Me getting dissociated from my body. You slaying an elder god.”

The absurdity of his statement made her laugh. Oh god, it hurt to laugh. Why did she sound so broken?

Davin brushed her hair back and kissed her forehead. “Let’s get you patched up.”

His touch was gentle as he maneuvered her body to scout out all the burns, dabbing a cooling ointment on each before wrapping them in bandages. In time, she would heal but for now, this would do. Of the bruises, there was naught to do but Davin held up some painkillers and a glass of water. Soon, the pain dulled to a distant ache and her eyes began to close.

Once done, Davin put everything away and scooted into bed with her, gingerly wrapping his arm around her. His warmth was a soothing balm to a psyche that was almost torn asunder and she shifted to snuggle closer.

“Sleep Sparrow. My turn to take care of you.”

“Mmm,” she mumbled, vaguely registering his words. As slumber enveloped her, she exhaled. Sleepiness blurred her mind and the next words rolled off her tongue more easily than if her full consciousness had any say. She was in no position to speak them but practicality had long left the room. “I love you.”

“I love you too, darling.”

A smile tinged lingered on her lips as she fell asleep, hiding the fears and doubts deep in her heart.

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