The surging sea of ecstasy from the night before had tossed this body through wave after towering wave of energy and exhilaration before dashing it upon the shore, abandoning the rotting carcass like seaweed cast upon the beach as the tide turns. The fever had come with a vengeance, every muscle ached with the poisons that flowed through my veins, every movement risking cramps. Yet I had found some solace, Nareth had shown me that I was wanted that there was more than friendship, that I could be loved and so despite everything my heart beat faster when I heard her voice the next day as awoke from fevered dreams.
"Mistress....I am with you."
"You are hurting. I felt it when I woke."
"fever, so hot...."
"Yes...fever. Putrefaction has begun, I suspect. Gangrene. Organ failure...". Nareth sniffed at the air, a slightly puzzled look on her face. She had entered as I drifted in the fevered miasma that served for most of my waking hours.
"Oh, yes. I should think so. Your body is beginning the purge."
"dying...soo thirsty". Nareth nods slowly, watching me carefully.
"And these things are as they should be...but...something is...wrong.", Nareth sniffed the air again.
"The wound on your throat has healed. How?". Nareth cocked her head to one side, her brows furrowing. I look puzzled, raising my hand to the right of my neck.
“It has”, I mouthed
“How can that be?”, her tone had a bitter edge, a different note to the Nareth I was looking for. No sign now of the love and desire.
“I....I don't...”, I was scared, Nareth's tone, her demeanour conveyed menace.
“Some other force...Something I have not seen. It isn't saving you, but...still...”, Nareth glanced about the room.
I had not even noticed the wound was missing, in fact I could not recall ever having seen it. I thought back to a few days earlier, to the scratches on my neck, those too had vanished overnight, I'd thought no more of it. Then I realised....
"amulet", I struggled. "it will save....preserve"
"What are you speaking of?", Nareth snarled, clearly annoyed. My mind wandered drifting to other images. "What amulet?"
"easier to think"
“Is it...easier. Then I should command you to speak.”
"the necklace, Harmonia it is named"
"Harmonia....And this trinket healed your throat?"
"yeesss it would have"
"But...Mistress..even now you are rotting from the inside out. I smell it. So...what is the point?"
"I simply own it, I do not understand it, Nareth, please believe me.", My strength was ebbing away from me it was futile to speak when the mind could do so much. Nareth's face shifted to a dark look of anger, concern, not for me but for herself, for her plans, she was worried worried that her precious "gift" might be rejected. Then her voice softened.
"Beq...It is no matter. Forget it. We will speak on this another time. When you are...better"
I tried to project my memories, explain what I knew.
"Juliana, drowned, revived, and drowned again", in my head I saw my dreams, my re-imagining of her ordeal, the autopsy. "It only fixes what is broken, I don't know", I looked up apologetically, attempting to shrug, I could only guess.
Nareth flared her nostrils again, her anger returning
"And you did not tell me this."
"So, I am not alone in deception."
"An ..omission.", I returned trying to grin, it was funny to see the tables turned whether deliberately or not. Nareth laughed softly.
"Indeed. Admirable. I have chosen well.", She leant forward on the bed, staring intently at me. "I prepared for you a gift. I had thought to lessen your suffering...but...this omission...well...", I smiled at the suggestion that my pain might be lessened, but catching her tone the smile soon fell from my lips; then, Nareth, striking almost too swiftly for me to even detect the movement, seized me and hurled me across the room, towards the window. I landed hard upon my side, feeling tissues once pliable and alive, crush beneath me with a sickening squelch. I did not have the time or energy to cry out, as the pain dimmed my vision, I simply lay where I landed, watching her, waiting for her to strike again, to finish my fighting. I looked on in disbelief, just a day before she had taken me to a happiness I had not known for years, she had truly wanted me. I saw then the illusion, the deceit once more, there was truly nothing beyond her power, and this time it was my feelings being crushed. I looked on in disbelief.
Nareth stood by the bed observing me.
"Now...As you lie there...or maybe try to crawl back to your bed...Think on my admiration for you."
"Nareth!", the words spat out in spasms of pain and sobbing, "you are hurting me". Pointless words, pleading for some sign of of woman from last night, but her anger swirled in my mind as much as in her own.
"Am I?", her lips curled as she sat beside me, watching me cower at her approach, "Well, your amulet, it will make it all better, no doubt."
"Nareth...", I paused seeking enough breath, would she kill me now before I could finish?
"Not again...what?", she mocked me, I summoned my strength.
"you will not hurt me again, I ....command"
Nareth shuddered, there was silence for a moment.
"Yes, Mistress. My anger...I forget...myself.", She bit down on her lip hard enough to draw blood and reaching out lay a gloved hand upon my shoulder. I lay on the floor not wanting to move, not able to move.
"When I was with you...when I gave you the kiss...It was all so...strange.", she growled softly. "Strange.". She reached into a pocket of her coat and took out a silver chain with something hanging from it.
"how? Nareth, I was not the first. Nothing new"
"I do not understand the question, Mistress. I...felt...", Nareth stopped herself, for a moment, a brief moment I had controlled and perhaps allowed freedom, but it had been clawed back.
"Don't hold back Nareth, I can see your mind still, clouded as it is"
"It is clouded, isn't it? Does that seem right to you?"
"I assumed decay..."
"My mind..does NOT decay....", Nareth glared, more than a hint of anger returning to her for a moment, long enough for me to flinch.
"but mine..." I gasped. "is it dying too?"
"It will survive. The pain merely blurs your thoughts. This will help...", she dropped the chain on the floor in front of me. It comprised a glass vial filled with a red substance attached to the chain along with a couple of charms of an indistinct metal. "It was prepared with the aid of my new girl. It is my essence, distilled. Not merely blood. Unscrew the lid, and merely take the smallest taste. The pain will fade, for a time."
"New girl?", I asked, had she taken someone else as well? Orchid? Despite the promises? But no she would not have been able to conceal her joy at such a betrayal.
"You will meet her.", she assured me, watching as my hand reached out for the vial. "She has sought me out. And she has many uses. I think the two of you shall become quite close, yes?", she gently stroked my neck as I unscrewed the lid of the vial raising the bottle to my lips and letting little of the liquid seep into my mouth.
"Only a small taste, What is contained in that vial could undo this entire city, it is so concentrated.".The tiny amount of liquid filled my mouth with warmth, which flowed into my body as I swallowed. Lina is quite the alchemist. It is enough to see you through. So hot...like a kiln, you are.", Nareth pulled her hand back, then sniffing the air again, she stood. As the warmth spread, my discomfort began to subside
"Is it working? Yes...", Nareth looked on, pleased with herself as I pulled myself into a sitting position.
"I cannot linger, Mistress... But..there is something. There will be a man...I do not yet see his name. Only his face". I watched Nareth speak as I fastened the vial about my neck. He comes seeking answers. He is a sort of...hunter, and another man, a priest, I think."
"Both may try to free you. It is too soon to say. The dice are still rolling."
"free me?", I echoed. Nareth nodded slowly, looking at me.
"They cannot, but they will try."
"A euphemism", I muttered, it was clear in my mind the kind of saving these men would have in mind, echoes from history, from the old continent, drownings and burnings, saving the "souls" of the poor possessed. Nareth laughed softly.
"Surely, yes. A euphemism. Mostly, they will seek to destroy me. We shall see.". Nareth crossed the room towards the doors and then pausing, she looked back. "I did as you bade me.", her tone accusatory, she raised her voice, "I did as you bade me. You wanted to feel...wanted. I tried...I...tried to give you that.
"I felt wanted Nareth", felt wanted, and yet how does the feeling of being wanted differ from the reality? I clearly lacked any power to distinguish, perhaps this deceit was beautiful after all. In knowing the deceit you embrace the cold reality that one can never truly know another's mind.
"Then...I did not fail you?", There was a sudden change in Nareth's tone. She seemed almost submissive.
"No Nareth, many things are failing me it seems, you did not fail.", Nareth nodded at this, I...I have not felt like that for a long time".
"I would...", Nareth's voice trailed off. "No matter. There are three of us now. There will be more soon.". I frowned at the lost words, too many times now her mind had clamped down as her heart was speaking. There was much conflict in her, no matter how bitter she may seem it was not without spirit, there was hope for me yet. "Rest. Use the charm for the pain. I will be with you again soon. And always I am in your mind. And you are...in mine.", I smiled ruefully, they would have been such a beautiful sentiment had it not been so literally true, no deceit, just cold fact.
"Nareth....", I called as she turned to the door.
"Did you feel wanted?", Nareth's hand lingered on the door handle.
"The question has no meaning for me...None...none, at all.". My heart sank, this aspect of her at least had no concept of love. This confirmed my fear, the anger, the violence, that had been truth, the rest all illusion, fakery. I stared down at the carpet.
"You may leave", I said sullenly, not looking up.
"Thank you, Mistress. Please, rest."