Falling Petals

by

Vaerama

Chapter 9: Wherein I Do Not Entertain A Scholarly Interest In Human Experimentation

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  I was… floating, or at least I seemed to be floating along in an endless space of blood and darkness which cast out away from me in every direction. With only a little hesitation, I reached my hand out before me, and it trailed through the red liquid that’d formed up like a sea around me. My hands formed themselves into a cup, and I drank from them without pause for the blood was sweet; this must be what it is to have a sweet dream, I thought, and though I’d never had one quite like this before: I found it wonderful.

  The blood ferried me along as if it were a stream that carried me, and I could feel that I was moving towards some surely unknowable destination, but I soon knew it with an absolute certainty of mind. The walls of the darkness would undulate with a predictable tempo, and red would flow all around me in accordance with this rhythm; I knew that I was being delivered to my heart.

  This dream of mine was beyond strange, for all along the way I was granted ephemeral visions; strange and ponderous spectres of my life appeared before me, and they would then be snatched away again like they were shaped from smoke.

  I passed through what must have been incredible and wondrous sights, for as surely as they fell away from me unremembered: they must also have been remarkable to witness, were I to judge by the reverential affection that seemed to grow inside me as each of them dissipated into a black mist.

  One stood out, not wholly and entirely forgotten, although it was wholly and entirely unimportant. It was of my good friend Nestor, and me, as we chattered away about nothing at all, but always out of the elder Orlov’s sight. Arianna really hated Nestor; said he was a slimy scumbag and that he was worthy only of revulsion, but I always felt that she’d read Nestor wrongly.

  We cannot choose who we are born of, I would tell her, and she surely should’ve known better about the dreadfulness of family matters than I, for before her I’d had no family to call my own. She liked to counter at those times that, unlike Nestor, she’d fought back and rebelled, but in truth: she’d simply endured for so many years, and she hadn’t been moved to rebellion until she had the power to fight back; it was Carmen’s affairs that first brought her to that edge, and it was mine which pushed her beyond it such that she could never peaceably return, not that she’d ever wanted to.

  So it was with Nestor, I would argue for the poor man’s sake. He wasn’t powerful, he had no cause to fight for, and he had nothing so precious to him that he’d defend it at any cost. She could call him a rogue all she wanted, but it wasn’t as if he’d ever been caught trying his hand at anything actually unsavory, and he was always pleasant enough when he spoke, if often lying throughout everything he’d ever said.

  But that memory was long ago and without purpose, and I’d passed through many others which had their purposefulness obfuscated from me, until I’d at last arrived at the end of the stream in my dream… and found something I wasn’t expecting; surely I must have been mistaken with my final destination, for how could this have possibly been my heart?

  Where were its chambers and valves that made its sections, or the pumps and viscera that I was so familiar with? This was a single chamber made of gemstone, and although the blood inside it flowed away and back again to a predictable, if elevating beat: it also moved freely within as to defy gravity and it seemed to produce without end. Who could really know their dreams, and perhaps I’d simply had the wrong conclusion about its setting, and I’d actually ended up in the phylactery?

  That made more sense to me, for on a cold facet of gemstone in the center of the chamber: I saw my Arianna, naked and curled up like a foetus as she held her head such that her fingers rather more resembled tools of torture than the soft instruments of the arcane that I’d long known them to be!

  She… she was weeping, but she wept with no eyes; I saw, felt, and heard at once as she sobbed, and blood just streamed from where her eyes used to be — for it seemed that she’d… gouged them out — and she rocked back and forth as if driven so by madness and sorrow! It hurt so much to see her like this, and I greatly feared for what could have caused her to abuse herself in this manner!

  She must have somehow sensed my presence through the agitation that grew in me, for she’d turned to look at me with a visage so marred that it made me feel sick as the horror of what was happening to her sank itself deep inside me! I heard her speak as if it came from the blood rushing through my own veins, and all around me, the chamber simply thundered with her voice,

  “I can’t get out, Mira! My body’s right there and I can’t enter it! I can send them out; all of them if I want to! So why can’t I get out, Mira?! Why can’t I get out!?”

  She would tremble so violently now and again, and a crackling would sound out around her as if her very aether had been shaken loose in her sorrow, and I wished that she hadn’t been so far from where I’d been deposited by the bloodstream, for even as I rushed for her with all my might: she was still so very far away, and she cried out,

  “I really don’t get it, Mira… this shouldn’t have happened! I just don’t understand! Why am I trapped here?! This doesn’t make any sense, and I just, I don’t understand where I went wrong... how could I have messed up like this? I can’t even understand how it could’ve gone so wrong! Why can’t I get ooouuuut?!”

  My beloved howled out with frustration and despair so mighty that each word buffeted me as the chamber shook, but I finally arrived before her. I made for each of her hands, and she squeezed them with enough strength that I almost felt that she would break the bones within them, but I dared not to leave her alone when she was in such a volatile state, and I feared very much that touching her any more directly would be all the impetus she needed to free herself entirely of aether.

  My beloved had found herself in the most dreadfully dangerous state I’d ever seen her, and even though this awful nightmare was the one to put her here: I could not simply sit back and wait for it to be over.

  Although I’d been born without aether, and I hadn’t simply been overcome by whatever ambient or free aether surrounded me: the same was not true of people who’d been born with aether, and had then lost it. There were many theories as to why this might have been, but although no answer I’d yet heard had explained the strangeness of those born without: I well knew the horror that came with losing the aether that’d been built into the body since birth.

  Arianna had somehow managed to send herself so very near to aethershock that it defied my sense. How was this possible, when she’d been so utterly unaffected by those absurd and mighty feats she’d performed before I’d fallen asleep? I couldn’t understand. Was it a delayed reaction? She was affected now when she hadn't been back then, so I thought that could be a possibility, although I’d never heard of it happening before. Well, only time could help her with the addling, but I could at least hold her through this.

  I gently guided her to hold me, and she followed my pull to the exact although I’d said nothing — for the last thing she could have needed was my errant mouth to cause her any distress while she was in such a wretched state — but even as she held me so tightly: her aetherial-induced insanity improved so very slowly that I’d become quite worried that she’d gone well beyond too far, and wouldn’t get better at all.

  All the while, she cried and shouted so dreadfully with madness, and she’d thrashed and lashed out at herself so much that I’d had to hold her arms down so that she wouldn’t attack herself again in that manner in which I’d first seen her. She’d decided to take the hint eventually, and she’d then moved to attacking me instead — which I was all too relieved for, since she’d had to wait for her natural aether to fill her up before this dream version of her would heal again, whereas I would heal in the very instant I was attacked — and I did not fear to be an outlet for the unspeakable pain and rage that my beloved was so consumed with.

  My eagerness that she not harm herself anymore might’ve very much risked damning my Arianna’s soul though, for when she became conscious again of what she’d been doing: I felt such a sorrow through her that I worried that she’d go and implode with guilt, but I mollified her, and she slowly came closer to a calm.

  For so long we sat there together, with the only exchange between us that she’d allowed my arms to wrap around her stomach rather than her knees, with the effect that she could hold me all the tighter. I could only accept that she’d felt much more herself once she’d started to wriggle with antsiness inside my arms, and so I finally felt her condition was stable enough to chance the ask,

  “What were you doing that got you so addled, Rianna?”

  The ants that resembled her thinking marched across my heart for some time, before she rather made to pull away from my arms, so I let her, and when she came to face me I was deeply relieved that her eyes had healed wholly. I would have liked to have gotten lost in them for a while, for they always seemed so beautifully magical to me even before I could see the deep wells of aether within them… but with her squirming so much before me: it was all I could do to avoid staring upon her nakedness.

  She swallowed, and a slight wince appeared upon her face, as if she knew I wasn’t going to like whatever this was, and she was preparing for an outburst in advance. She then cast her eyes away from me, and prepared to say what she feared so to tell me, but I wouldn’t have it,

  “Rianna, if it’s really that bad: I need you to look me in the eyes when you say it. Can you do that for me?”

  A cute pout formed on her face, and she furtively looked up into my eyes for only a moment before tearing them away to lay them upon me with nary a hint of subtlety, and she said as she started lecherously eating me up with them,

  “Jeeze, Mira, I’m not a kid.”

  “Clearly not,” I agreed with her, though I crossed my arms and held her fast with my next words, “but I still won’t let you distract me from this.”

  Her eyes widened with faux betrayal, and she brought them back up to my face, where they wavered for a while, and started to drip with tears as she spilled her guts,

  “Well, I wanted to get back to my body, and I couldn’t, so I thought it was an amount of aether problem, but… I was wrong. I fucked up, Mira. I mean: I really really fucked up, and I… I did something I shouldn’t have.” Her eyes went down again automatically, so I lifted her back up to me by her chin, and she swallowed again as she forced herself to meet my eyes, before continuing,

  “So, back when I made the phylactery, I kinda used your blood to tailor it specifically to you, so ummm, that’s why you didn’t… just, I’m sorry Mira, I shouldn’t have done it behind your back, just after… after Carmen, I couldn’t take the thought of you dying. I was… greedy, and I’m really sorry.”

  She breathed a while, and it felt as if she were breathing using my very own chest, which was starting to feel rather unpleasant given the implications of what she’d just told me — obviously, she’d bound me to the phylactery around my neck, but that was only something to apologize for after the fact, and I certainly wasn’t as upset about it as I might have been… but that was quite apart from the horror that was building up inside me — and I knew that she could feel it from me, for I felt her desperate plea coming before she’d even made it,

  “Please don’t be angry! I didn't mean for this to happen, it was only for if everything went wrong — which it did! It went so much worse than I thought it could, but this really wasn’t the phylactery’s original function! Mira, I swear I didn’t mean for you to be locked inside it! Your blood was supposed to help me send you back to your heart through the runes I put on it if the phylactery caught your spirit. But… but your heart was...”

  She broke her eye contact with me as she spoke of my heart, and her sobs wracked my own chest, and I simply sat there as I tried to endure the magnitude of what I couldn’t quite grasp it, even as it pranced around my head mockingly, so I eventually asked her to clarify some matters,

  “Rianna, I’m not angry: I’m confused. How did my heart’s destruction affect the process, and why did it end with both of us stuck inside the phylactery?”

  Arianna’s lips trembled so terribly, and her eyes darted around as if she’d wanted to be anywhere else even as they swam so, but she didn’t leave me waiting for too long, for she said in a teary rush,

  “It’s so much worse than that, Mira. You were stabbed through the heart… what that means is that the connection between the phylactery and your blood got all… goofed up, and what was supposed to be a real easy rebound, you being… umm.”

  “Cursed, Rianna?” I mused with an eyebrow raised, and she winced when I said it, but she continued,

  “Yeah, not actually the word I was going to use, but that. You didn’t have any aether to interfere, was the theory, so I was able to set you up as a secondary, um… soul receptacle, so that if for whatever reason I didn’t make it to the phylactery: I’d be able to redirect to it from you, and with the amount of aether I was working with it should have worked! But you see,”

  She needed a few breathes, and I gave her hands a light squeeze of support, so she smiled warmly at me and finished,

  “Since you died first, your soul mostly traveled through the blood link to the phylactery, and you didn’t have a heart to return to, so you were kinda stuck there. Then you came over to me, and I sorta lost focus and… and I don’t know what happened then. I think the magic went into the phylactery already, but so much of it came with my soul to where your heart used to be, and I guess the aether expanded to fill the rest of the space by copying the phylactery I was trying to get into?”

  At the beginning, she’d seemed so sure of what had happened, but now that I’d had an outlet by which I could escape from the conclusion forming inside me, that she was trapped in my body and couldn’t escape because she’s too integrated with it: I absolutely leapt at it,

  “Rianna, if your soul is in my body and mine is in the phylactery, then why are you the disembodied one?”

  I saw her curl back into a ball, and that hadn’t been my intention at all, so I brought my arms back around her with a heavy guilt in my chest, but she answered me even as tears fell from her by the score,

  “Because, Mira… I messed up. This is so messed up and I’m sorry, but your soul isn’t only in the phylactery. It’s also still in your body. I broke us, Mira… I broke us to pieces, and then I fused us together! The worst part of all is I don’t even know how I did it! It’s as if all the years I spent on this were for nothing, that’s how little I know anymore! I… I can’t even be sure if I can… fix us…”

  She whispered this last, and she wept in my arms for so long, and though for a while I cried with her, for that dreadful sadness of hers was at least partially upon me: I was also immensely glad that I could really hold my Arianna again. All through it, I whispered that I loved her, and that I didn’t mind being broken if I still got to be with her, and the weight I felt upon her soul lessened until it was but the slightest presence.

  Still, I would have stayed there much longer; I could have held her for an eternity only out of love, but the world of the waking made itself known to me so intensely that if this wasn’t a medical emergency: I was damn well going to make it one!

  “My Petyr’s caught fever, Mira dear!”

  Mercy, Lisset, it’s just a fever, it’s not as if Petyr was cut up all over and laid out on a bedsheet where he’d been slowly gathering the bacteria up into his body for God knows how many hours before I’d gotten around to treating him —

  “Bring me to the surgery, Lisset.”

  Her legs were faster than mine, and my eyes could barely see for the bare daylight that was shining in upon them, which rather hurt them so much that snow on a sunny day might’ve been easier to stare at, or perhaps even the sun itself which I most certainly didn’t desire to try.

  Lisset didn’t need telling twice, and she scooped me up into her arms in the same princess carry she’d used last night, and I could only be glad that I was both too blinded and groggy to appreciate the experience. She’d either made excellent time, or we’d been pretty close by, and perhaps both of these things were true at once, for she’d shortly deposited me back upon my wobbly feet just inside the surgery.

  The foul smell of infection was in the air where she set me down, but my eyes started going red in spite of that, so I wondered if I should ask my friend for some more of her delicious blood, but I shook myself of these thoughts as I had a patient in need, and instead asked her,

  “Would you fetch Luca for me?”

  Her boisterous reply before she’d departed wasn’t something that made it into my hazy ears, but I figured she’d be off and back again any moment with my son, so I got to work, which started with a request of my beloved,

  “Rianna, I am going to need water heated to a boil, then brought back to lukewarm.”

  “Just like I did the other day, you mean? Why don’t you do it yourself anyways?” Arianna’s answer came to me, even if it was loaded with something that sounded awfully important, but I told her,

  “We’ll talk later, right now I need you working, love.”

  The black mist formed out into water before my eyes, and this relieved me greatly, even though I felt her pouting inside me, so after I washed up and went to fish through my medical draws, I said to her,

  “Rianna, I need you right now. You’ll be instrumental for this.”

  In my hand was a scalpel, the only one made of surgical steel that I’d ever seen pristine, as my beloved had swiped it from the Cardinal’s palace as an anniversary gift for me, and I’d done what I could to take care of it since, but the years had put a small spot on the handle. Thankfully, the blade was yet untarnished with rust, but before I got to work on Petyr’s infected back wound, I needed something from my Arianna,

  “My love, would you scald the blade, just in case?”

  The blackness formed into a fire, and I immediately recoiled away from it, and the fire ceased to be. Both of us just stayed silent a moment after, me with unsettled adrenaline and fear, and her with intense guilt and apology. But I had no time to stand on my issues, so I shook myself of the fear, and I rephrased,

  “Perhaps with boiling water?”

  That was done by the same magical trick in midair, but the heat alone was bringing back that awful event from yesterday, so I was very relieved when it was over, even if the spectre of its passing hung over my shoulders. I brought the scalpel near to Petyr as I investigated the infection.

  This was a serious matter, as it was seeping red liquid before I’d even gotten to it, and I knew that if I wasn’t fast about this it might go septic, and saving him from sepsis would take miracles that didn’t exist in the frontier, and only for the richest in the Vatican. So I guided my beloved,

  “I need the lukewarm water to run over this wound at a steady pace while I scrape out the contamination.”

  We worked in tandem to clean the wound, and the terrible infection came away by the second. I felt the red haze overwhelming my eyes as his blood came out with freedom, and I had to wonder if I even could get sick anymore as I held the monster inside me in check.

  Lisset arrived with Luca in tow, and I didn’t stop to greet him, but instead directed him to check on the fever, for that would be our next biggest worry. My boy washed up, and shortly he had his hand upon Petyr’s sweaty forehead, and it was soon enough under Petyr's jaw, and the grimace he’d then made was indicative enough of the answer, but he spoke it as was our practice,

  “High fever, and heart’s up again too; replenishing tea?”

  “Water first, but yes. Get him some warm water to use, Rianna.” I agreed with my son: the most important thing for Petyr was that he stay hydrated now, but there was no need to wait for tea to start. As my beloved poured my son the water to force down Petyr’s delicious-looking throat: my thoughts were elsewhere, for I needed to know to know something from Lisset, but Arianna spoke to me with enough force that my thoughts went right out of my mind,

  “Mira! I just had the best idea! Why don’t we just ‘eat’ the infection?! We could fix anything in anyone, this is awesome! Just think about it, Mira: we can literally rebuild people’s bodies! Reconstruct them so that they’re better in every way! Tougher skin, harder bones, and we can even make them stronger! Imagine Lisset with more muscle mass: we could do that!”

  I felt a little awkward to answer Arianna’s hopefully academic enthusiasm with the coldness of reality while neither Luca nor Lisset could hear her, but could still hear me telling Arianna the dos and don’ts of science on the human body.

  With no small amount of haste to separate my patient from Arianna’s sudden scholarly interest in human experimentation, I went to the medical cabinets and pulled out a towel, which I unceremoniously shoved beneath Petyr’s legs — long periods of unconsciousness might end with brain damage without proper circulation, and I suspected that he wasn’t about to wake up soon.

  I made my way to the door in an incredibly calm manner, and I turned to address my son whose eyes still had appreciable bags underneath them,

  “Luca, when you’re done, go get some proper rest, I’ve got bandage duty this time.”

  In that manner, I left the back room, and I carefully passed by Talia where she was playing with the younger Mister Fredrickson in the main room. Really, the Fredrickson household was huge in terms of floor space, and so much of it was simply wasted. The only reason I could ever figure for it was that Lisset’s size made the house seem smaller to her, and she must have driven poor Bart to the ends of his wits to construct the thing.

  My first step outside the front door came with a terribly blinding light again, and I had to wonder how I’d managed to deal with it before, since it was rather intense upon me now. A swift black mist washed across my body, and relief came immediately to my eyes, so that explained it, although it didn’t explain why I’d woken up in such a dire state that I’d needed Lisset to carry me. I walked just a small distance away from their doorway, and I pondered this for a while, but I answered my Arianna’s question,

  “Rianna, a person cannot simply remove the bacteria from someone’s body, and even if we are now capable of doing it, which I’m not going to be convinced of without sufficient evidence of its relative safety: you forget the body’s response to the invaders. If the disease suddenly goes missing, the only thing the body knows is that it was attacked, so it'll destroy itself from the inside.”

  The ants marched across my heart, and I heard her respond as if it were the most natural thing in the world,

  “Well, why don’t we just eat them too? They’re just misbehaving cells, right?”

  “Antibodies,” I specified to her, “and yes, if you’re willing to take away a person’s entire ability to fight off disease, I suppose you could ‘just eat’ all of those too. There are so many unknowns with all of this, and we are not just going to start testing them out on my patients!”

  Arianna was looking for a compromise, I felt her little ants each running individual marathons at their top speed, but she wasn’t going to think her way into this one. Unless we had a damned good reason, there would be no testing on humans, and I didn’t care what she had to say about the matter, for I wouldn’t be changing my mind.

  A figure came walking over from the 'feasting area' that'd sprung up overnight, but I was too preoccupied with my beloved's newfound interest in meddling with God's creations, when quite suddenly all of the little insects stopped mid-step. Even when she had a body separate from me: I could not have made her stop thinking so entirely with such a suddenness, and so I was considerably perturbed by this, but the figure had come close enough that I could easily see it was Bart Fredrickson, and he waved to me with a jovial spirit.

  “Mira! It’s wonderful to see you again!” Bart said to me with a wide smile, and I found myself having to smile back, always a sweet guy, Bart. That’s probably the reason Lisset went for him in the first place, but the red haze was making itself known to me again with his appearance, and I had to answer Bart anyway,

  “It’s good to see you too Bart. Don’t worry about your son either, he’ll be alright.”

  He shook his head and laughed, “I’m not worrying, Mira. What’s the worst that can happen anymore? It’s not like dying’s going to kill him!”

  Bart guffawed heartily as he headed inside his house, and the door shut behind him with a gentle sound. I’d assumed that Arianna would return to her argument with glee, but she was oddly silent right then, and I could feel that she was bracing for something, though I didn’t know what. Arianna’s silence seemed to stretch on in that unnatural manner, and I simply didn’t understand why she wasn't suggesting we start with vivisection, or otherwise pressing that we begin testing upon the deceased... after all, I'd already been eating them, so I st-

  “Rianna, what have you done?!”

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About the author

Vaerama

Bio: Loving a medium unfortunately doesn’t make a person necessarily talented within it, and I have no expectations for being the next best most famous new author going boldly into the future.

That said, I'm still gonna try my best! ^__^

My updates won’t have a set schedule until September 2020 in all likelihood. Thanks for reading! ^__^

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