Of the Dust

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1: Unspoken

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump…

Pounding, over and over without an end in sight. Drums beat behind her eyes, against her forehead, pounding into her skull that same repeating, thumping beat!

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump…

Textured fingers pressed against her forehead, an unfamiliar sensation encasing familiar fingers. Her own fingers. But this texture was not that of her skin. It was new…and strange. Something she’d never experienced before.

Curious, she struggled to open her eyes and look upon her newly textured fingers, to see what had changed to make them feel so different. Her eyelids trembled, lashes shivering in the way of sight. White light burned—seared her eyes. The thumping intensified. She could hear the beat with her skin. It bored into her skull, beating in tandem with her burning eyes. Still, she did not close her fluttering eyelids. No, she had to see. She had to know.

Finally, with her eyes opened wide, the world around her began to come into focus.

It wasn’t white.

Instantly, a tightness in her chest she hadn’t before noticed loosened. Her breathing, which had been as fast paced as the pounding in her head, also slowed. Her tensed muscles relaxed.

She suddenly felt so much better. Calmer. The pounding in her head faded as reason returned. and she realized it had been her heartbeat she’d been feeling. Just her heartbeat. Not drums. Not wrathful waves pounding against the shore of her mind, wearing away at her sanity.

It wasn’t white.

The ceiling above her was a soothing sky blue. There was a circular light shining in her eyes. …It wasn’t a sun. There were two suns, not one. So what was this if not the sun? Then again, why would the sun be shining indoors through the blue ceiling anyways? No, definitely not a sun. What, then?

The light burned her eyes. The burn was less intense than when staring into the suns, but it still hurt, and eventually she turned her gaze from the light, blinking away the spots in her vision. The world had blurred and distorted once more. This time, however, it returned to focus much quicker.

Sky blue everywhere. The ceiling, the walls, the floor. There was an indentation in the far wall, a bit bigger than a full-grown man. …A door? Some sort of opening, although it was currently closed off. She was alone in the room. However, she didn’t remember coming in here on her own, so that could only mean someone else had brought her. And they would’ve had to bring her in from somewhere—presumably that door, as she saw no other possible entrance.

…This room was completely closed off. The door was closed. There were no windows. Who brought her here? Where was here?

Her heart raced, but she forcibly calmed her breathing, relaxed her tensing muscles.

Don’t panic. Keep calm. Now wasn’t the time for rash actions. There were too many unknowns for that.

At least there wasn’t white. That awful, despicable white. This thought calmed her heart, as she breathed in deep, shutting her eyes against the sky blue room.

There was a sharp hushing sound which came from the doorway. She jerked upwards, only realizing that she’d been laying prone on an elevated surface this whole time once she was sitting, her back against one sky blue wall. …That felt wrong. Her perception of the wall against her back was…distant. Like she was feeling it through something else, some layer of interference, like earlier when she’d pressed her fingers to her forehead. She never had resolved that mystery—

Not the time!

Her gaze focused on the doorway. The indentation was no longer an indentation; it was an outright hole in the wall. The door had opened, then. Where had it gone? It had not swung open into the room, nor could she see it outside. That hushing sound had been unfamiliar, as well; nothing like the squeak of salt-rusted hinges. The door was just gone. Through the doorway, she saw only another sky blue wall, not far from the entrance. Another room?

Nothing stirred outside the doorway. The only sound in her room was that of her pounding heartbeat and heavy, even breaths. She could feel her chest heaving with each controlled inhalation and exhalation. She made sure to breathe deep each time. There was no telling what waited outside—something had opened that door—and she needed as much oxygen as she could get, just in case.

Weapons. She needed weapons!

Or did she? She had no idea who had brought her here or, consequently, who awaited her outside this room. Friend or foe? Whoever they were, they had brought her to this room unharmed. That boded well.

Either way, she had no weapons. She hadn’t spotted her spear during her earlier observations, nor did she feel any of the knives she usually carried on her person resting in their holsters. She didn’t feel the presence of the holsters at all. The only thing she felt on her skin was that strange texture, the sensation of being encased in some foreign material. What was this feeling? Irrelevant. She had no weapons, nor had she spied anything else in the room. All she had was her hands, and that was assuming the person who’d brought her here was hostile. There was no evidence of that. She needed to stay calm and think this through rationally. Charging into a situation was never a good plan, not with so little information.

She needed more information.

The door had been open for a good minute now. Still, no one had appeared. Should she look outside, herself? Was that why the person who’d brought her here had opened the door? To lead her outside this room? To what end?

There was only one way to find out.

Again, that strange texture against her skin scraped at her focus. No! Not now. The door. The person who’d brought her here. Those were what mattered right now. She rose from the elevated platform, settling her feet on the floor. It felt wrong, but it didn’t matter. Eyes on the doorway. The sound of her cautious footsteps was muffled, even amidst the silence, as she crept forward, inching towards the threshold. As she finally reached it, her breath shallowed, matching the quiet of her steps.

She paused. Waiting. Listening.

Silence.

Silence.

Silence.

…A gentle scuff, to the right of the doorway, low to the ground. The source of the sound was not one she immediately recognized, but it told her plenty.

Patience.

She held her breath, straining her ears, ignoring her racing heartbeat.

Listen.

Another soft scuff. Same location. Same person, definitely. Standing still, then; perhaps shifting their weight?

Not enough information. It could be one impatient person and five more seasoned. It could just be the one person. She didn’t know how big the room outside her own was. There might be other rooms attached. Plus, there was no telling how many others there were in this…settlement? The quality of the construction of these two rooms, from what she could see, contained a phenomenal attention to detail. They were built to last, and well-maintained, too. A permanent residence. This kind of quality didn’t belong in some ramshackle settlement. She must be in a village. Villages had significantly larger populations than settlements. How many people awaited her outside, in addition to this one person she knew was standing right outside this doorway?

There still was only one way to find out.

She let out a long, long breath. Slow. Quiet. Steady.

Breathed back in.

Okay. It was now or never.

Straightening her spine, she stood tall and proud as she stepped across the threshold. A quick glance to the left: a long, empty corridor, which branched left and right into the unknown. And to the right—

What?

What?

She stood and stared.

It stood and stared.

Both were silent and still. Neither’s eyes wavered from the other. She didn’t blink. It didn’t look like it had eyelids to blink.

Its skin was a neutral gray tone, with some areas lightened near to white, others almost black. Its eyes were like the spaces between stars.

She flinched back as its skin tone changed but its body remained still. White blobs shifted, stretched, faded brighter in some areas and darker in others, while the neutral gray retreated downwards, and the near-black shadows moved upwards towards its eyes.

Different shades of gray. They moved and shifted. They faded in and out, drifting, swirling, almost dancing. It was hypnotic, and she would’ve fallen into a trance watching the shifting shades of gray had it not been for those abyssal eyes boring into her.

She breathed: “…What?”

Now it flinched back.

The shades on its skin shifted frantically about, flitting here and there, shades fading dark and light and neutral. It all moved and changed faster than she could even keep track of, becoming a blur in shades of gray, a meaningless tangle of tones. But the being did not move its body again during this eye-dazzling display. It held itself physically still, while its skin visually flitted about like an anxious child.

Curious. Curious, indeed.

Its limbs were long, too long, and their shapes were all wrong, with joints in the wrong places, at the wrong angles, in the wrong shapes. There were too many of them. She could hardly keep track of how many limbs there were, let alone the joints, with the shifting shades of gray. They dazzled her eyes, as she struggled to focus on counting the limbs which seemed to function as legs, only to get caught following one shifting blob of gray or another on its journey across the being’s skin.

Neutral gray. All the other shades had suddenly morphed into this one tone.

Light and dark whispered across the neutral gray in a quick pulse.

Neutral gray.

The same pattern of light and dark pulsed across its form.

Neutral gray.

And again.

She turned her gaze from its body to its eyes. She held its gaze, and its skin stopped pulsing that pattern. She gestured to herself.

“Sylarr.”

Then she gestured to it.

Silence.

She turned her hand back to herself, pressing her palm to her chest. With emphasis: “Sylarr.” Her hand motioned to it.

A different pulsing pattern skittered its way across that neutral gray skin. Almost tentatively, the being raised one limb and awkwardly gestured to itself. Gray. The pattern again. It pressed the limb to itself, holding the pattern for a moment, before returning to the gray. It slowly motioned the limb towards her. A different pattern pulsed, this time. Gray. The same pattern again, with emphasis.

She nodded. “Sylarr,” she said, gesturing to herself with a smile. She motioned towards it: “Twófeihk.”

It pulsed those two patterns in synch with her words.

Sylarr.

Twófeihk.

Her smile stretched wider. Names. They had names!

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