The Light Within Ch. 03byarkadys_lyric©
My face felt gritty, even itchy and when I reached up to brush the wet sand from my face I was gratified to know that I wasn't dead, that I could feel my fingers and toes, and that my broken wrist felt no worse for wear. I pulled myself onto my side and looked back at the ocean lapping at my ankles. Where was Perikos?
I wanted to lay my head back into the sand and fall asleep till tomorrow but if he needed my help he couldn't wait that long. My legs wobbled under me as I stood up and pulled my hair away from my face. I squinted along the shoreline. The darkness seemed less oppressive than usual, but maybe just compared to how black the ocean had been. I began to walk forward, trying to concentrate on not tripping and watching the shoreline rather than the sinking possibility that I wouldn't find him or that there was nothing to find.
"Where are you?" I whispered when I'd walked for close to an hour. I could just make out some rolling hills in the distance, like grand anthills. But no Perikos.
"Jayn?" I heard him say my name! I spun on my heel and looked behind me, then to the side. Shit, I was losing it and my mind was fucking with me in the cruelest way possible.
"Is that...what is this sensation?" It was Perikos again. I wanted to fall down, to burst into tears because it couldn't be him, he was nowhere around but instead I stood stock still, just watching the hillsides. "Jayn, there are six apparent hills southeast off the coast on the Greedy Sea."
I frowned. "I know that, I'm looking at them. Now please, just stop."
"I know you are looking at them," his notes fluttered. "I can see them too."
"Huh?" I closed my eyes and took another step forward and felt something cool and slippery under my foot. It looked like a black bit of seaweed or kelp or something. I bent down to pick it up. It felt thick and strong in my hand. Maybe if Shadow had been quick enough, and found one of these long enough, he could have tried to pull us to shore. I was being stupid. "You can't see anything. That's what proves you're just my brain going haywire. Trying to make what happened seem okay. But it wasn't." I felt dangerously close to a breakdown.
"But I do see. Jayn! This is what it is to see!"
I was halfway tempted to turn around and walk back into the ocean but I felt the faintest stab of non-metaphorical pain at the very idea.
"Do not even joke about that. You are quite right to disbelieve me though, I do not blame you. If you walk approximately six hundred meters north down the beach, you will know I am not lying. I will meet you there."
A part of me, the proud, pessimistic part that knew I was going to curl up in a little ball and cry myself to death from getting my hopes up told me to be prudent, or at least to walk. But I couldn't - I ran faster than I can ever remember running. I didn't notice the gravity weighing me down or the dull throb from my swollen ankle. I didn't feel the pokes and stabs from the rocks and shells that stuck in my feet as I sprinted across the sand. Then I felt it connect.
I was on my back in the sand, being very nearly crushed by a massive ball of blackness. My eyes were leaking but I didn't remember feeling sad, ever, in my entire life.
"Jayn! I am so grateful you are alive! I feared you were the product of my grief, my guilt! But you are alive!" For a moment every last inch of my skin was covered my darkness as he encased me in it. Then he let me go, deciding instead to wind thickly around my waist while a sea of twitching tendrils encircled my head and face.
"Perikos! You saved my life! Our lives, and probably Shadow's life as well. You're okay! I thought you were..."
"I promised I would not leave you alone. With my smaller mass I must have drifted downshore but only after we resurfaced. I am sorry you were in such danger in the first place. If it were not for my –"
"So what did you mean you could see? How could I hear you? Is it like how I can sense emotions with you guys or –" Perikos had gone weirdly still. "Is it a Kragosi ship?"
"The Loyalists then?"
"What?" I followed Perikos' attention back towards the hills. There was the slightest hint of a grayish-mauve tinge to them that made me nostalgic for Ferox 4. Then I could have swallowed my stomach. "DAWN?"
"Through this area, yes. I am so supremely foolish! I should have predicted it would come this far south."
I raised my eyebrows. It was a good thing I hadn't eaten in at least a day because I might have thrown up otherwise. "Look, this really isn't the time. Do you think you'll be safe enough if you...you know, use me to hide?'
Perikos was silent for a beat. "I believe so, and at any rate there is no other choice. I will not go back into the ocean and leave you here alone."
"Okay then," I said, and dropped down to my knees. Perikos' diminishing blackness pooled between my legs.
"Spread your knees as wide apart as you can and hold yourself open for me."
I swallowed hard, keeping my eyes on the slowly brightening horizon.
"Don't be afraid, Little Shade. This isn't like last time. I'll be helping you and once we get out the star's reach, everything will be fine." I wasn't looking forward to walking however many hundreds or even thousands of kilometers that would be all by myself, but we had just run out of choices.
"Exhale and relax," Perikos pinched my clit gently before slithering up inside me. I felt a wildly sharp, breathtaking pain and then the release of pressure, followed by an odd, uncomfortable heaviness, heavier than I ever remember him feeling.
I reached down to clutch my swollen belly when I heard his voice again. "Do see that bit of marine plant near your foot?"
I almost fell over from shock. "What? How?"
"I will explain later. First, reach down and pick it up again. Take your hair and place it so it covers your left ear."
I obeyed him, trepidation rising. How exactly was this important or was it something I didn't want to know?
"Take the plant and tie it around the circumference of your head to keep the hair in place. Just make sure that the bulk of the plant rests immediately over that ear."
I finished tying the knot. Oh, that ear. The ear where he stitched my skin together with a piece of himself, a piece likely susceptible to light. "But I thought Shadow said that the piece of yourself that broke off would die." The feeling of trepidation didn't abate. How was he hearing me talk? And how was I hearing him?
"Yes, he thought it likely would, although neither he nor I knew what would happen. We were sure the risks were minimal."
"I still believe they were minimal. After all, is our improved communication not a boon?"
I slumped down all the way in the sand while I watched the horizon lighten. "So you can hear me and I can hear you because of that piece connected to me? Even when we're far apart?"
"While that is essentially true, it is somewhat more complex." Perikos' music was relatively peaceful, considering the situation.
The air around me already seemed warmer. "Oh? Please elaborate, won't you?"
When Perikos sang this time, the tempo was faster, nervous almost. "While we were being pulled under, enormous strain was put on your ears. As a matter of fact, your right eardrum burst."
The fact that my eardrum neither hurt, nor did I have any sensation of deafness or hearing loss gave me pause but I decided, perhaps for the first time in my life, not to interrupt.
"To be honest, your hearing was not my priority and while I was worried for it, I was far more concerned with getting you to the surface alive. You can hardly imagine my surprise when I felt a renewal of sensation in the piece of myself I used to stitch your ear. Indeed, sensation in it resumed shortly after it...staunched the bleeding from your ear. It then began to bind with your ruptured tissue to create a proper tympanic membrane."
"It is still imbedded in you middle and outer ear. I have learned that while I am subject to physical sensation from it, I cannot control it as I would control any normal appendage. Therefore you must protect it because apparently I cannot."
I reached up and traced the shape of my ear through the shield on hair I'd hidden it behind. "It...made me a new eardrum? How does that even work? I mean, it's not really a part of you anymore, but you can feel it? And it's not a part of me at all, but it can bind with my cells? Perikos, I –"
"I am more surprised than you are, let me assure you. Unless I make a conscious effort to block it out, I seem to be sharing a certain amount of sensory input with you, sensory input to which I am not accustomed."
"Sight," I whispered as I watched an enormous orange sun crest the horizon. "For some weird reason, you can...see? Like I can?"
"No, not as you can. No part of me so far as I know is connected to your optic nerves. In fact, if there were no Light, or you were blind or even less reliant on that particular sense, I do not imagine I would perceive anything that way. However, we apparently share enough of a mutual neurological connection that while I am not utilizing your optic nerves, I am processing your visual impressions. Like your appreciation for that star."
I watched the sun inch past the horizon. It stayed low, like it was perpetually setting, giving off the most amazing oranges and reds. I had thought I would never see any color properly again. I had even thought that my eyes would be unable to process light correctly after so much darkness. The dawn was beautiful, but it felt alien to me rather than comforting.
"So our cells bonded then. How is that not like mating?" I knew I was generalizing. I had lived on a farm my whole life, I had bred plants and animals. But it came down to the fact that we weren't the same species so this shouldn't be happening.
"Technically it is rather different than mating. I don't believe your middle ear can reproduce, can it?" Perikos' song was distant, maybe even distracted.
"No, but you know what I mean. This isn't supposed to happen, it isn't normal. If...if my middle ear could reproduce, would it be viable?" I tried to find a way to ask that didn't sound like I would ever, ever entertain the possibility of alien babies.
"This experience is as unprecedented for me as it is for you, Little Shade. There's no way of knowing, except that I seem to be in complete control of the whole of my form, save the bit that I'm communicating to you through. It is taxing, by the way, to process such extensive communication while remaining small and pliant enough not to hurt you. My suggestion is that you either rest or continue east on foot. To get where we must go, we would either have to follow the entire seacoast and then continue northeast for close to five thousand kilometers, or else turn around and all but circumnavigate the planet, which I don't need to tell you will take considerably longer. Our best option is to move directly through the star's path and out the other side."
I sighed and rubbed my temples. "How long will that take, given how slow I am?"
"It is difficult to estimate and at any rate you need not worry about it for now. We will confront this one step at a time. I cannot carry on an extensive conversation with you in this state without needing to feed, but this time I will hear your words and be able to comprehend your visual impressions so you will not be alone."
I looked down to brush my swollen belly. "Can you feel that?"
I felt something inside me shift and lost my breath as I felt him press outwards towards my palm. It hurt but I was elated. I really wasn't alone anymore.
I had been walking for several hours. I couldn't use the sun to measure it; it stayed where it was in the sky and even then the planet didn't rotate fast enough for it to matter. Five hours, maybe six. My hips ached along with my wrist and head, though oddly my ankle felt fine. Maybe it just needed to be exercised properly. Well, I was getting nothing if not exercise.
I had gotten as far as the base of the easternmost edge of the foothills. The terrain here was sparse on the fungus front; the ground was a mottled grey and weirdly soft – maybe the whole of the earth was made from fungus. I couldn't see any trees or standing shrubbery, which was no surprise with little water and limited sunlight. I could tell a more complete concept of weather must exist here though, because I could see what looked like a pillar of greyish purple storm clouds gathering to the southeast. If I was really lucky, the might blot out of the sun.
"A storm," Perikos murmured to me.
"Yeah, I see it," I told him, shielding my eyes from the dim sunlight. "Are storms here dangerous? It doesn't rain fire, does it?" I was definitely willing to believe I was unfortunate enough to end up on a planet where it rained fire.
"Not fire. Electrical storm. It may be violent. You should seek cover at the nearest opportunity."
My eyes scanned the terrain between me and it. I wasn't noticing a whole lot of shelter or actually anything taller and more conductive than I was. Suddenly Perikos' metal bracelet felt heavier. "Right. Well, I'm not seeing anything yet, but help me look and just maybe I won't have to add electrocution to the list of things I did this summer."
Perikos seemed to decide not to dignify my sarcasm with a response, which was fine by me. Honestly, we could be much worse off than having to contend with a little lightening. Apart from all the many times we almost got ourselves killed since we met, I thought we were in relatively good shape. Sure, we were relying on slow, clumsy little me to schlep across untold countryside on an alien planet and there wasn't the slightest chance Perikos would be of any physical help as long as the sun was out. On the bright side, we were guaranteed not to encounter any Loyalists with the sun overhead and although I was sure the Kragosi mercs weren't totally clueless as to how we must have escaped the prison, I doubted they would think to look here first, since who in their right mind would let a battered, ravenously hungry human female be responsible for the safety of the leader of the Rebellion? On second thought, no need to be too grateful.
When I wasn't weighing the likelihood of my own demise, I was boring Perikos with the unabridged version of my life story. Now was as good a time as any, I reasoned, and anyway what else did we have in common to talk about? I would have preferred to hear his life story, as he knew far more about me than I did about him but he couldn't divide his attentions enough so I guess he just listened to me. I could have walked in silence, but for the sake of keeping my brain focused and my anxiety manageable, I droned on and on for two more hours before collapsing in a heap at the top of the highest point of my hills.
I looked out over the valley below. The gray mottled earth was coated in an odd, orange-green grass. There were still no trees but instead circular patches of denser, thicker green which had to be plant life. I started as I saw something in the distance move, something tall, narrow and spindly. Something with three legs.
"I did not know they still existed," Perikos' music was quiet but lilted with surprise. "I believed we had driven them to extinction."
"Are they dangerous?" I asked, wondering if it could sense me from here. It was still far off but what the fuck did I know?
"No. They are not sentient and they are quite skittish. They are omnivorous but they only prey on a particularly large insect. There may be some left here as well."
"Goody, a big insect. How big are talking exactly? Because that may change how I feel about going down there."
Perikos paused a moment before answering. "Close to your length and width but smaller in terms of overall mass."
"Did you just call me fat?" I asked, scanning the ground below for big, slimy alien bugs.
"Fat? I do not understand the question."
"Nevermind. I was just teasing you." I managed to get back on my feet after a moment and I began to slowly descend into the valley. "So the bugs aren't dangerous either, right? They won't try to eat me or lay eggs in me or anything?"
"I should hope not," Perikos sounded tired but my sympathy was limited at the moment, seeing as how I'd been the mule for the past who knew how many hours.
"Okay, the first thing I need is water, then food, then I need to stop moving before I keel over," I told him.
Rather than express his appreciation for my troubles, Perikos whispered, "before you rest we need shelter. The storm is not far off. I estimate no more than thirty minutes before the rains reach us."
I chewed my lip. What did he want me to do, have a barn raising? There were no stones, no branches and vegetation was thin on the ground. It would take me nearly thirty minutes just to figure what I could eat without puking.
"I do not mean to add to your worries. Travel closer to where you saw that animal, for they need water and it has likely rained recently."
I didn't argue or ask him how he worked that out. I just set off at a jog in the direction of the whatever-it-was, hoping not to step on anything weird along the way.
The first drop splashed my nose, making me sneeze the second after I got a proper look at the three-legged critter. It must have been four meters tall and it stood on three long, double jointed legs. Its neck was nearly as long as its legs, so that its nose dragged over the ground as I watched. Hunting for creepy-crawlies. It jerked its head up when I sneezed and turned to face me. I saw the barest glint of sunlight off one black eye and then it turned from me and sprinted back towards the gathering storm clouds. More warm, heavy drops fell on my face and chest.
"Keep walking. There is likely water close by," Perikos said.
There was something ironic about trying to track down water in the opening seconds of a downpour but I did as he said. I saw five or six shallow grey pools before me, each small in diameter as less than a foot deep but I didn't hesitate. I fell to my knees and plunged my mouth in, forgetting to surface for air at regular intervals so that when I did I choked and coughed. The water tasted a little odd, more like dirt or earth than I was used to, but then going by that logic I was used to not having any water. I drank till I thought I'd be sick.
"First food and then shelter," Perikos reminded me as I caught my breath. It had begun to pour in earnest now and I heard the deep throbbing roar of thunder roll across the sky. "Behind you there is a diverse patch of vegetation. When you passed before I saw fungi, fruits and grasses."
I wheeled around and grabbed some of everything, even a bit of mushroom that looked like moldy cheese. That would be a last resort. I stepped backwards and felt something sharp and slimy underfoot. I couldn't stop myself from shrieking.
It was a part and not even a major part, of a huge, white bug. It looked like the oozing remains of an exoskeleton of what I imagined that three-legged animal had for lunch. I wiped my foot off on the soaking weeds beside it. "Shit, that is so gross."
"Look around, Little Shade. There should be a dwelling of some kind, a burrow you could hide in."
I groaned. "I don't think I can stand a repeat of that episode on Kragosa. No more burrows, please."
The sky seemed to open so wide my vision went white for a moment and then the thunder followed.
"There it is! Do you see it, Little Shade? Thirty meters to your left, set into that bank? The hole is large enough for you, I am certain."