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"I Will Learn"; Inner Landscape Challenge
Topic Started: Sun Jan 7, 2018 10:48 pm (360 Views)
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When her lashes parted, she found herself naught where she was. Safe and warm by the fireside in a well equipped inn, she was just sighing in the heat cast forth from the flame. She was happy to be sleeping in a soft bed that night, and to have just drawn herself from a warm bath. She was there no longer.

Sitting with her back against a great stone wall, her eyes peered into the blackness of night, and the haunting darkness of the ravine. She was back in the crevasse, at the bottom of the collapsed bridge. She shivered, a gust of cold air blowing through her clothing. How had she arrived here?

She knew it to be some kind of dream, or magic, for when she squinted against the darkness she saw a shadowy pile of flesh and cloth not far away in terms of distance. Rising to her feet she assumed it to be Jurdanian, though her captor had refashioned the memory incorrectly. This was not where he laid. As she walked over to him she made a shocking revelation. Kneeling beside the body she stared into her own mangled face. Not having witnessed her own appearance at its most... damaged, she gasped audibly at the look of her crippled frame. She was unrecognizable, her face crushed and compressed on one side. Her nose clearly broken, she gurgled with each hesitant and tedious breath. This image of herself was unconscious and struggling for its own existence, but she knew how this story ended. She survived.

Turning from herself she looked around the ravine for her companion, the great beast who saved her from the fall and sustained horrific injuries as such. She could see only a blurry black mass some distance away, but as she tried to reach it, she drew upon some ethereal foggy barrier. Running to the tree line that marked their eventual exit she found another barrier. She was fully enclosed in the darkness of the ravine floor, at night, with only the company of her own dying corpse and a pale tendril of moonlight to illuminate the scene.

“What bravery you showed,” a male voice called warmly from the spot where she sat just moments ago.

She walked towards him hesitantly, unsure if the voice that she heard could be the same as the one she remembered. Then his face caught the faint trail of moonlight, and blue eyes danced on a visage adorned with a short trimmed beard. “Father!” she called, her voice young and excited. She ran to the illusion of him and he leapt to his feet, embracing her with such strength and warmth. They held each other for a long while, swaying back and forth. Tears welled in her eyes and fell on his broad shoulder.

After some time he stepped back and held her an arm’s length away, his own eyes dancing with tears. They smiled at one another and spoke at the same time. “I’m so proud of you,” he beamed.

“I miss you,” she whispered.

He had died when she was young, not yet in her teen years. They had all gone then, at the hands of a cold blade, and left her to survive in a world of darkness alone. She cared naught if he was real, if the projection before her, of her late father, was an honest one or some mage’s trick. She missed him and thought it a gift. As she opened her mouth to speak he held up a finger, she paused, and he spoke instead. “You are stuck in a rift. You cannot stay here. But he will only allow you passage if you answer his questions.”

“Who’s questions,” she asked, reaching for her father’s arm, “I don’t want to leave. I’ve only just seen you.”

He looked at her, his eyes pained. Confused she stepped backward, the heel of her boot contacting something soft and wet. Her second self, crippled on the ground behind her, let out a moan, blood frothing from between too-pale lips. Her father spoke once more and drew her eyes from the horrifying scene at her feet, “you have to leave, and with haste. This land is not one for the living. You cannot be sustained here.”

“But I won’t leave you again, I can’t leave you again,” she pleaded, the broken version of herself let out a gasp and a cry, blood sliding from a gash above her eye. Phedre ignored it and drew herself closer to her father.

“I love you Phedre,” he whispered, and in an instant, though the same man stood before her, she found herself looking into the eyes of another being. She stood stunned as he opened her father’s mouth and spoke with his same timbre, but the entirely wrong cadence.

“Phedre you will answer my questions, and do so with the utmost of sincerity, and I will grant you a farewell with your father and a swift return to your warm fireside inn. If you lie, or otherwise vex me, I will keep you here upon your own peril, and use my many talents to make your last living moments filled with misery. Do you understand?”

She drew her eyes from her father’s face and walked a short distance away, her head dizzy with the calamity of the situation. Again the dying version of herself coughed and sputtered, choking on the air that she needed to survive. “What will you do with my answers,” she called to the creature inside her father’s skin.

“I will learn,” was its only reply.

She had little option, and the being knew it as well, and so it called out its first question. “What do you consider your greatest achievement?”

She paused, thinking on the answer. She did not measure her life in terms of successes. She did was she needed to in order to live. What was her greatest achievement? She answered him truthfully, “surviving.” She looked down at the dying version of herself and knelt low beside her. One boot was completely surrounded by the lake of blood that seemed to continue to grow around the broken version of herself. Endless crimson that continued to leak from new wounds that ruptured and split across pale, corpse-like skin. Every cut, every injury, this poor copy wore on her flesh, bearing the pain that came with it.

She looked at her father. He nodded. “What would be your preferred way to die?”

“In battle,” she said without hesitation. She thought on death a lot. She had many interesting conversations about it with Kronos at the fireside. “I would prefer to die with my sword in my hand, the blood of my enemy in my mouth, and by the side of my friends, whose strong arms would carry me to the pyre to burn before the insects could get me.”

“What trait do you hate most about yourself, Phedre?”

Another that she did not have to think long on, “my reliance on others.” For she knew, in her heart of hearts, that she could not manage her existence in a state of full independence, and it ate at her very soul. Dependence grew weakness, expectation... disappointment.

“You think yourself weak,” the being said from her father’s lips. It was not a question so she did not answer it, instead waiting for his next query. “What is your greatest fear?”

She paused a moment, having to think on it. Busying her body while her mind worked, she attempted to settle crooked limbs on the broken version of herself on the ravine floor. It drew painful screams and ragged convulsions, which she soothed with soft hushing and repetitive melodic phrases. Her dying self resettled, looking slightly more comfortable. “I fear uselessness, purposelessness. I fear the day when I can no longer complete the task.”

He seemed satisfied and carried on. “What haunts you most?”

From beside the crippled body she looked up at her father with different eyes. She looked past the oddity and into the warm features of his face, the beard that he used to scratch against her cheek when she was a child, the strong jaw. Tears stung at her eyes, clinging to her lashes before tumbling in great rolls down her cheeks. She did not bid them away with haste, for they continued to fall, and in their midst she whimpered, “that I did naught to save you... any of you.” She collapsed to her knees, falling into the blood that now surrounded both her and her broken self. She was easily brought back to that day, when she crouched, not a day over ten, in the cellar, watching through the gaps in the floorboards as her father, mother and two siblings were overrun and cut down by... “bandits.” She hid, and then she ran... and she hated herself every moment since that day for not bursting from hiding and joining in the combat. Had it brought her own death, it would have been more honorable.

The being within her father cared little for her emotional display, and even sounded a bit bored as he drew upon his next inquiry. “What is your idea of perfect happiness?”

What a follow up question. She thought about happiness... it was a rare gift, not something that she treasured or chased. Purpose did not necessarily denote happiness. She was unsure of her answer. Wiping her tears away with blood-covered hands she replied slowly, she did not long for a sturdy husband and a family of children. “Perfect happiness would be having the chance to see my sister grow old and have children of her own, and my brother old enough to carry broad shoulders and a sharp blade. Perfect happiness is seeing others that you love happy.” And alive, she sighed inwardly. With that great wound open and bleeding she struggled to suture it closed once more.

“What is the worst thing you have ever done to someone, and why did you do it?”

She sighed, regaining her composure. She answered this one with little shame as she had processed the associated guilt some time ago, and had continued to attempt to make things right since. “I baited a child predator with a small girl. I killed him before he could do anything to her, but when she would not stop threatening to have me hung for it, I killed her. I was 12. She was 8. In retrospect I should have just used myself as bait, but I was worried I would be overpowered... and I heard he liked them young.”

“What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?”

“I gave a priceless and ancient artifact as a tip to a whorehouse when I was drunk.”

“What is the best gift that you could receive?” he asked, his eyes watching her for an answer.

“Loyalty,” she said reflexively.

“No,” he replied.

She thought a second and she knew what the answer was. She hated to say it. She did not want it to be her answer. She wished her answer was tougher, a sharp blade, even gold. But hung on the honesty stipulation, she murmured, “love.”

“Finally we are at our last question,” her almost-father said. She rose to her feet with excitement, eager to have her father back even for just a farewell. “What do you think is the worst fate that could befall a person?”

“They could lose themselves... Or live an entire life having not found themselves in the process.”

“Your contact is complete,” the being said, turning her father’s back to her.

“And my father? Will we have some time now to-“

As he turned back to face her, his eyes were once more the warm sapphire of her father. She bore into them with such love. She moved to run towards him, to embrace him once more, to smell his scent, but she could not move. His eyes grew sad and tearful, “Goodbye my Phedre,” he whispered, and as though hooked by her belly button, she was pulled back with enormous force.

When she opened her eyes once more, she sat warm and cozy at the fireside of the inn, in the same chair, after the same bath she had taken moments ago. A single tear slid from her lashes and down her cheek as she suppressed a body shuddering sob.
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