I carried myself like a husk without a soul, roaming around the hall.
There was no one in sight.
I felt like I was the last person in the tower, the only one that truly existed within these walls.
It was deep into the night; I had no idea so much time had passed since I entered the library.
It was as if time was no longer linear. It was frozen to me but outside closed doors, time continued moving, and it didn’t wait for me.
It was so barren; it should’ve been comforting—but it wasn’t.
I missed the warm pats on my shoulder or awkward hugs.
The halls were long and narrow like I was trapped in a viper’s stomach, waiting to be dissolved and digested, until nothing of me was left.
I felt my world shift, and sway around my own body. I couldn’t focus my vision on anything, really. The world kept spinning and spinning, or maybe, I was spinning instead of the world. Just how I thought I was the only normal person here, maybe I was wrong, just like Dauer said. Maybe I was the abnormal one just like I’ve always thought.
I had this empty feeling in my chest as the world danced around my vision, performing impressive moves I couldn’t fathom nor follow.
I needed to experience how It was to be deaf, blind, and everything else. However, I couldn’t control when it happened, perhaps I should’ve asked Dauer how to before leaving.
Another careless mistake I made.
Nothing new, I guess.
Still, I didn’t want to experience it again.
Not being able to taste anything was fine, it was something temporary after all. However, the vulnerability deafness and mostly blindness brought was terrifying.
The deprivation of senses hadn’t come one by one.
Sight and hearing had left hand by hand before, who said they couldn’t drag more sense with them?
Maybe they could convince taste and smell too. If they wanted to make me even more miserable, they could add touch to the mix, just to spicy things up.
When there wasn’t anything, I could sense, would it feel like I was floating in the void? Free of any care or consideration?
Was it worth it?
I never should’ve read, not even touched that book, but its call had been too tempting and I had been too easily swayed.
I was the kind of person that wouldn’t deny what made me happy, and reading was something I’d never turned my back to.
Oh, how I missed those silly plots that lead to nowhere or masterful stories crafted with care.
This emptiness I couldn’t quite pin traveled through my limbs, settling inside my heart. It was as if I was numb, and no longer there. A me without thought or care was in the riders’ sit, doing whatever it wanted without asking for my opinions, discarding logic.
I wasn’t even making sense anymore.
The world kept revolving without any care for my thoughts.
And then, I blinked.
The halls disappeared and were replaced by ceramic floors and the sound of water.
Had the world spun so much it had created a space wrap, just like in those novels?
It was ridiculous. I was ridiculous.
I rested my hands against the wall, the world kept on swaying, trying to sway me, to mold me as it desired.
And as the world was trying to mold me to its liking, I tried to leave an imprint on it, too.
But it wasn’t imposing as what the world did.
I could see the shape of my hand on white. ink the shape of my fingers. They swayed and swayed from side to side and kept on swaying like they were grass against the wind.
My fingers swayed, I swayed, until I didn’t anymore.
Great, now this place was affecting my health, too.
I lowered my vision, observing my hands.
They were a kind of black that was absorbed by my skin, flooding the creases of my hand. If I scrubbed hard enough it would disappear, and if it didn’t, I guess time would do me that small favor.
Now fully aware of my environment, and feeling sober, I looked around.
I was in the showers, obviously. The ceramic tiles in the wall and floor could only be one place, and if it wasn’t, then the tower needed a new interior designer.
There was a wooden shelve separated by planks. In it, only white clothes could be seen. Little compartments keeping their jumpsuits dry.
There were some figures blocked by mist beneath showerheads—It was the first time I saw them, since the people in the village washed in the river, never having that kind of privilege—scrubbing their bodies until they were impeccable.
The water didn’t splash in my hands, however, even I could tell that it must be boiling.
Why did they shower with water so hot, it left blisters on their skin?
Another thing to throw to the pile of concepts I couldn’t comprehend.
Now that I was here, the least of what I could do was take a shower. I smelt like a wet dog—thank goddess I was able to smell though—and it was unpleasant.
I took my clothes off, place them in a compartment, and went to the nearest shower head.
It wasn’t made for someone like me, as I had to crouch down a little so my body could fit under it.
Turning the handle to the right made cold water, I discovered, to the left it was hot.
I turned it to the right.
A gasp left my mouth when the freezing water trailed down my skin. if the world had been slightly blurry and confusing, now, the water had made it a little less.
I scrubbed my hand against each other, trembling, trying to get the ink off.
Watching as some of the ink was washed down, mixing with the water creating this kind of black substance that stood out against white, I thought it was as if my impurities were being gradually removed along the water and the ink. Then, I saw my hands, still stained with a faint black, and knew it wasn’t enough.
I sighed, resting my head against the ceramic that wasn’t as cold as the water.
“Tough day?” An unpleasant and grating voice asked, it was as if their vocal cords were ground until they could only produce discordant sounds. I couldn’t distinguish whether they were male or female.
I could have stayed quiet as I had done with Fuchs, Vert, and tried with Lemberg.
“Yes,” I said, defeated.
“You and me as well,” the voice replied. “What happened?”
This was nothing I would answer, since it would display my insecurities, making them to easy to scrutinize and to hard for me to ignore.
“Don’t want to talk about it? It’s fine.” They said. “I’ll tell you about my day instead. Will you listen to this old lady’s rambles?”
“Right hold yourself steady as I speak to you, it’s quite the story.” She jested, I noticed the sarcasm dripping from her words.
“Again?” Interrupted someone unknown, by their voice, they were female too. “Your stories are always the same, Amelia.”
“How would you know?” The old lady, who I now knew was called Amelia, grumbled, “You always ignore them.”
“I still know they are boring.”
“I want to listen to it, though,” I said. What would she tell?
I was certainly curious, no matter if what she said was a simple story about how she spent the day watching grass grow.
“Look at this!” Amelia happily exclaimed. “Unlike you, Sierra, there are still youths that appreciate my wisdom.”
“What wisdom?” A humorous tone that didn’t belong to anybody that had spoken yet, said. “The only wisdom there is, definitely isn’t in your brain, old lady.”
“Hey, don’t be so harsh,” Sierra laughed, mirth exuding from her voice. “Remind me, Eva. Who was the one that used to follow Amelia around?”
“That was in the past.”
“Agh, you brats. Let me tell the story!” Amelia was fuming.
A funny image came to mind as if the mist in the shower was because Amelia was so angry, smoke came out from her ears.
“Sorry, sorry.” I couldn’t see her, the mist blocking everything, but by her tone, I imagined Sierra was smiling.
“Go on, old lady, Make it quick.” Eva unnecessarily added.
“Where should I start. You see, I woke up this morning—”
“Eva! Are you going to let me tell the story or not?”
Eva did remain silent after that, and Amelia took it as her cue to continue talking.
“—and guess who I saw outside my door?”
“Who?” I asked.
Sierra gasped.“No way! Terry?”
“Who’s Terry?” I had heard about him before. Fuchs told me to look for him when I had the time.
“You don’t know who Terry is?” Sierra asked, I could sense she was genuinely surprised, like I didn’t know the sky was blue or the Alguise Kingdom was a dumpster.
“Why are you so dumb and useless? It’s only natural she doesn’t know who he is. She’s the new girl.” Eva spat, her tone steady and insulting.
Sierra was not offended, she only giggled, like everything was amusing.
“…Is it obvious?” I said, feeling like my heart was being squished. Why though, I did not know.
“I can see your silhouette through the mist, my dear.” Amelia patiently answered. “There isn’t anybody as tall as you here.”
It was pretty obvious then.
“Cough, As I was saying,” Amelia continued with her story. “Terry came to my room and gave me twenty Ambers.”
“If so then you’re delusional old lady, that’s not a tough day.”
“It is. He gave it to me after avoiding me for so long and then left. What an ungrateful child! He can’t stay and chat a bit with me.”
This uncomfortable feeling increased the more they kept talking. I couldn’t see them, but I could imagine their expressions—Fake scowls and playful smiles.
My stomach was twisting, intestines churning and grinding against themselves.
“What are Ambers?”
“They’re basically the currency here,” Sierra explained. “Terry makes is the only one able to make them. It’s his power.”
“What a shitty explanation. Even the old lady, would give Marie a better one. I’ll explain it since none of you are smart. Terry’s magic is particular, unique, and useful, I’d say. He can ‘trap’ our magic inside his ambers and then we exchange them with others for favors or with guards.”
Look at that. If what Eva was saying was true then Vincent wasn’t the defender of justice and all fair, the enemy against deviants he claimed to be.
“The guards can bring books that aren’t in the library or anything else we want, from food not found here to letters from people outside.”
Letters from outside?
If it was true then I could write to Corpo. Write him about everything that had happened and how I felt, use letters as a catharsis I couldn’t afford to have here, and wait for his reply.
I felt that his replies would help me stay afloat.
It was perfect.
“How can I get Ambers?”
I would find a guard and flood him with so many Ambers they would be ecstatic.
“You either ask Terry or ask someone to give you some. You could also steal them, but I don’t recommend it. The last thing you need in this place is enemies.”
I wanted to ask more questions, but Amelia yawned so hard it almost scared me. Whether it was performative, putting an end to the conversation or the actual manifestation of her exhaustion was unknown to me.
“Young people sure have a lot of energy.” I heard the chirr of the handle being moved, and the flowing water stopped, no more drops hitting against ceramic. “My old bones are begging for sleep.”
“Good night old lady, let’s see if you wake tomorrow.”
The odd sensation only kept increasing, it wasn’t like the previous prickling. It felt like I was being crushed by something I could see but never avoid. Like I was being chased, with no chance of escape and knowing that inevitably I would be turned into mush.
They said their goodbyes and their figures disappeared. The mist did well to conceal them, I couldn’t catch a glance of their appearances.
I stayed under the cold water, thinking.
This feeling I knew too well.
More than I’d like.
This churning, this crashing, and this choking feeling had always followed me, more so when I witnessed situations like this.
Amelia, Sierra, and Eva have probably known each other for a long time. There wasn’t much to do in the tower so I guess they had plenty of time to get to know each other. And with time, came familiarity.
The kind of familiarity that allowed them to make jokes, be mean to each other, exchange insults, and laugh at their own stupidity or lack thereof.
They had a good relationship, proven by the fact that, even deep into the night, when nobody else was roaming around, they kept on talking. There was a cozy warm exuding from their conversation and the knowledge that they valued each other to who knows what end.
Every friendship, I thought, had this characteristic warmth to it. Like sitting in front of a fireplace, with hot chocolate on their hands, protecting themselves from the winter of the outside, and exchanging stories until everybody else was tired enough, they wouldn’t pay a single iota of attention but still try to keep themselves awake to continue listening to the rambles of those they appreciated.
I was jealous, unbearably so.
I turned the handle, switching to the hot, boiling water.
Because I, too, wanted to feel that warmth.