Although I couldn’t be certain why Katherine felt such a need to form up her humanoid appearance before speaking to me, as she’d proven to be decidedly capable of bubbling out her words through her watery form alone: I suspected that she rather enjoyed the ‘humanizing’ aspects that the transformation afforded her.
“Are you afraid that I’ll spill you, Katherine?” Mirth flowed out from me with a few chuckles, for her current ‘plight’ just seemed so underwhelming to me when compared to the dangerous possibilities of Arianna’s earlier solution, but I was moved nonetheless towards assuring the rusalka in my bucket,
“I will strive not to, but I’m afraid that I’m not particularly accustomed to this sort of labour, so some spillage is to be expected. We are quite a distance from the village, but you shouldn’t worry overmuch: Rianna will replace any water that escapes.”
Arianna muttered out some unintelligible curse when I said this, for she was always so loathsome about answering another’s needs, and so she disdainfully objected to the declaration I’d made in her stead,
“And just what makes you think I’ll be doing that, Mira? It seems to me that you’ve got a handle on things, and I’m sure she’s very pleased to be in your very capable hands. You can make water yourself anyways; you know how it functions already!”
My beloved wasn’t necessarily mistaken, for there was every chance that I could channel aether now, but that didn’t mean I had any appreciable expertise with doing so! I hadn’t so much as practiced my very first spellcast, and that I might have access to her aether did not mean I was suddenly her equal, so how could Arianna’s pride even allow her to pretend that I could serve as even a poor substitute for her?
Certainly, I’d witnessed her perform magical tricks for decades — Mercy knows, but I’d so often been driven to the acknowledgement of her mastery over the arcane, and through such an intimate manner of instruction that if anyone existed who’d been tutored so well as I on the subject: I could not even imagine the ordeal they’d been made to suffer! — but the vision of her aethercraft itself had always been entirely invisible to me, and no amount of description can quite capture what can be gleaned by sight alone!
Arianna had overplayed her hand when she pretentiously threw aside her conceit, so I put quietly my hands upon the wheelbarrow and started wheeling it along, and I thought of precisely how I might indicate her hubris to her. The wheelbarrow was light upon my arms, and it shook so minimally in my grip despite the uneven terrain of the forest, that I almost had to stop in astoundment at how much easier this was than I’d imagined it would be!
Strange, this was so terribly strange, for it very much conflicted with my understanding of the physical drudgery I’d believed inherent to such labour! Why it did not even pull upon my muscles to drive, I could not understand, for I was hardly the strongest person I’d ever known, and infact I’d rather ranked myself among the weakest persons in the frontier! But to feel how extraordinarily easy this was: I simply could not fathom the musculature of those who’d for years hefted such barrows from dawn till dusk!
Granted, normally there wouldn’t be so light a weight in them as a mere bucket of water, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong with this situation! I couldn’t help but to stop for a moment to see about something I knew a slight bit more about: buckets full of liquid, and what a dreadful pain upon the arms they were to carry.
I made for the bucket of water with Katherine’s head still sticking out of it — she’d been staring in awe as the scenery had slowly changed, and though we were not so far away from the river yet: she looked so full of wonder that it occurred to me she might’ve never seen this part of the forest before — and I had a request for my ghostly new friend,
“Katherine, would you dreadfully mind turning back into water for me for a moment? I’d very much like to examine an element of my… physical state.”
She turned to look at me with curiosity, but a bubbled “No problem, darling; anything for you.” came from her as she rapidly dissolved back into the rest of the water. I studied the orange bucket with some small degree of reproach, for I had a terrible feeling that I might very well be made aware of yet another incredibly human aspect of my undeath, but I was determined that whatever happened: I would not shrink away from it in cowardice!
My hand very delicately found its way to the plastic handle, and I affected a minuscule pressure upon the bucket full of water… and it came away from the barrow as if it were but an oddly shaped flower I’d plucked from its stem.
I shivered with disgust as I was made to face this wretched new element of myself, but I nonetheless brought it down almost as steadily as I’d picked it up, for I did not seek to injure Katherine, and I was regretful that a small amount of liquid slopped over the sides and pooled into the wheelbarrow, so I apologized shortly,
“I’m very sorry for spilling your water, Katherine, but thank you for letting me do this. You can come out again.”
Both she and my Arianna spoke to me at once then, and Katherine’s head began to reform above the water’s surface, but I didn’t have the capacity to listen to either of them at that moment. I was quite overcome with having lost yet another part of myself to this unlife, and I was greatly strained with just holding my tears back inside me. I would not tolerate just standing around uselessly, and so I searched my immediate surroundings for an object that suited my vile curiosity as to just how far gone from human I’d become.
Just a score of lengths away, I saw that a small pine sapling had taken root, and it was about twice as tall as I was; a perfectly acceptable scapegoat, yes it really was an ideal sacrifice for my purposes. The voices of two women very much overlapped as I stepped away from the barrow, but they needn’t have bothered calling me, for I was coming right back after this. I just had to know how bad a case this really was, for I needed to understand the scope of this horror before it expanded out of my emotional control, which was so very delicate a thing at this instant that I dared not to test it!
The tree’s trunk came into my hands, and I pitied the unfortunate thing, really… but it was only a plant, and it wasn’t as if I would be running into a dryad or treant so shortly after I’d met a rusalka! I scoffed at my indecisiveness, so I gripped the pine tightly around its base without concern for the boughs that protested my insistent grasp, and I pulled upon it upwards with all of my strength!
Earth erupted around me and great clumps of the stuff ‘rained’ back down upon me as I tore the sapling from the ground, roots and all. I held the sapling aloft for a few seconds as the reality of this development sank into me, but it came back to the ground alongside my failing knees after a span that seemed to stretch on into the past for a moment.
The images came back to me of breaking bones, bodily ripping men to shreds, and even the strenuous hug I’d given to my own son… I swallowed back the dirty tears that had run the length of my face as I set the poor tree roughly back upon the disturbed earth I’d pulled it from. It probably wouldn’t survive now, but it had as much of a chance as I once did, and perhaps it would someday be made to become a great and terrible treant of pestilence and undeath against its will if it really shared such a fate as mine!
I laughed then at my ridiculousness, and I sent the blackness that was my own unholy ‘aether’ out all around the tree. I shaped its roots back into the earth to the best of my ability, though I was sure it would have to rely on its own hardy nature if it were really to survive while surrounded by such tall trees all around it, and in this manner I ‘restored’ much of the tree to how it had been, but not all.
No, I’d stopped myself short of removing the imprint my fingers had left upon its trunk. I’d caused those scars, and I wasn’t going to let the tree pretend to itself that nothing so unfair and cruel as what I’d done had ever happened to it! I imagined that it might be driven to grow into a mighty tree in the face of such adversity as being forcibly uprooted, though I highly doubted that such physical mars could ever be a help to something in nature… they certainly hadn’t alleviated me of any burdens that life ever sent my way!
It was... selfish of me, and I trembled for having done it. This… this was so very cruel of me, and so utterly unlike me, and I’d done such a thing with no good reason to one of the Lord’s hapless creations! All for nothing… but I’d just lost so much, and it was quite impossible to prevent myself from ensuring that some small and horrible part of me still survived anywhere. I was disappearing so very quickly, as if my existence had always been some ephemeral thing that could’ve evaporated with but the slightest change in the wind!
This body, how I hated this body of mine, and every part of this resurrection in name only! What of myself was really still here?! Arianna had asked me so many times if I wished to indefinitely postpone my death, but the Lord gave us but one life on this Earth, and I truly believed that even with all of my sins: I might’ve yet been absolved of them, and gone to Heaven! I had seen it! My Arianna had thought that it was some silly metaphorical thing, but I always had faith, and I saw it when I died! Heaven was a real place… and I’d been… and I was rejected from it!
I shook my head to loose the tears that flowed freely down my cheeks, and I forced myself to take deeper breaths even as my airway kept trying to close with heaving quakes. In this manner, I slowly came to stop my hyperventilating, and the ringing in my ears subsided sufficiently that I could hear Arianna desperately pleading that I tell her what was wrong, so I tried to respond to her concerns before they sent me back into that pit of terror that I’d only just barely pulled myself out from,
“No… nothing important… Rianna. Just, I’m… I’m stronger than… I thought…. I was.”
That, I could tell since I could hear my own breathless voice, did not even slightly convince myself, so I continued after a particularly painful inhalation,
“We will talk about…” I exhaled before I was quite ready, so I took another terrible lungful of air, and I said to her, “Later, Rianna, when we’re home. Please.”
Our home was almost all I could think of at this point, for I felt so miserably low that all I wanted was to lie in bed and sleep, but there was still a quarter of daylight left in the sky, and I had things to do… though I very much wondered if I was in a state to do them. I wanted nothing more than to sleep, and if I let go of my pride for but a moment: why was I really so against Luca taking care of Petyr on his own? He was more than capable enough, was I just holding him back because I was scared of being replaced by a better creature than I’d ever been in life?
Luca. Luca… I didn’t bring him into this world, but he was mine, wasn’t he? He was my son, and I’d raised him to be what he was, we both did. If there was ever a sign on this Earth that I’d once lived, and had been a person: it was him. He was all of the best parts of us, and none of the bad. He was at least my equal in doctoring by now, all he needed was more time and he’d be surpassing me so totally that I should not ever stand in as his assistance.
He could delegate, he could perform surgery, he knew to triage where it was necessary, and he made hard decisions when they were needed, even if he could be a little faster about it: he was every bit as good as I was and then some from when my apprenticeship had come to an end!
My son was not so young and useless that he couldn’t manage without his mothers anymore, and he’d proven it… time and again he’d shown his capacity for medicine, the arcane, and he’d even found time enough to grow as a person… his future was as bright as he’d made it. Neither Arianna nor I could claim such a thing, for we were infinitely marked by our childhoods even now, but Luca had turned out so much better than we ever could have hoped. He had inherited the better parts of Arianna and I, and he was completely free of the torments we had suffered!
The blackness again departed from my phylactery, and it wreathed the injuries I’d left upon the pine. The marks I’d cut into it with my fingers shortly healed as if they’d never been there, and I put as much of myself into ensuring its future survival as I could! Not all of my marks had to be like those that’d been carved into my flesh: I could leave positive signs of who I was in this world too!
There surely must remain enough of me in this unlife, for my son had left me alone with Petyr despite knowing what I was! He trusted me, it was stupid of him, but he really did… or perhaps he only trusted that if Arianna could bandy her magic about for so long as the initial surgery had taken: she must’ve also been able to stop me from hurting the patient.
No, that’s an absurd oversimplification: if he was watching my behavior with aether in his eyes over the course of our treatment — a third of the day had gone by, and he’d kept his spells running through them all the while, so it was no wonder that his eyes were so strained as I’d last seen them — then he must’ve seen me for what I was, and he still believed I would not tear into Petyr’s bloodied form!
I saw a monster in myself, but Luca had seen his mother. I saw myself as a fiend, but Lisset had seen her friend. I’d been entirely certain that I’d become the worst sort of lingering demon in my unlife, but even a stranger like Katherine had seen me looking, acting, and feeling like a human! If the perceptions of my son, my dearest living friend, and a sweet stranger were all so out of alignment with my own… then perhaps it was my own view on the matter which was mistaken!
There was only one other person I needed to hear this from, for she’d called me a freakish undead, and a monster, and it was her opinion that I needed the most clarity on. So I spoke to her, my voice coming more easily now that I could breathe without the weight of having pointlessly inflicted myself upon the world,
“Rianna, my love… what do you think of me?”
- Typing Back At Carpal Tunnel
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! ^__^