What is this place?
TsuYa peered around the strange chamber cautiously. His limbs felt suspended and his motions, even walking, odd and under-water. Light flickered from above through draping veils of various color, casting skittering shadows on the wall. The floor under his feet, looking to have once been polished to a shine, was far too grimy now to give up his reflection.
The humid stench of death and long rot draped over the room, seeping into his pores. Death of a very violent nature. TsuYa wasn’t sure how he knew, he could just feel it.
Why is this place familiar?
Dressed in a loose night shirt and common black slacks, the Apprentice was on his way to his sleeping chambers for the night when he somehow ended up here.
I seriously made a wrong turn.
TsuYa’s dark eyes narrowed, picking out shapes in the room. He found himself coughing, fighting to breathe the grim air. Long, stiff figures lay crumpled against the far wall, some seeping dark pools that charted rivers across the grimy floor. Faceless, they were covered in long white squares of cloth, bearing the splattered remembrance of once-living things.
“Hedd-ynad…” he heard himself say. It was his brother’s phrase, and one that he rarely spoke. But nothing else fit the revulsion of the moment better.
In the center of the room loomed a display of technological wonder. Everything about it was eerily alien, a strange spiral of life tangled within death. The structure emanated a pale, ghostly light as if infused by the lost souls of the pooling figures on the far side of the chamber.
TsuYa found himself both drawn towards it and loathe to come any nearer. His coughing subsided after a moment, but then his chest began to burn.
One long, slender capsule, stood within metal fixtures. Except for the small glass area near the top, it was completely enclosed in a featureless black case. Numerous clear tubes and snaking wires ran into the shell from a small boxlike device.
It looks like some kind of control area for a machine.
A flight of numeric data flickered across a small black screen that was attached to the panel. TsuYa had no idea what any of it meant. His eyes traced the spiderwebbing wires, peering away from the first capsule to observe the second. His chest ached, a growing discomfort. He place one palm over his heart for support, finding his skin was as humid as the air around him. TsuYa forced his thoughts away, focusing on the structure before him.
Despite the fact the internal area was only a few feet in diameter, the clear globe-shaped pod took up most of the space in the center of the room. It was filled with a clear, syrupy liquid. Between the two capsules ran a single set of tubing. There seemed to be some sort of energy exchange flowing into the globe from the first capsule.
It’s like they’re growing something in there.
The whole structure quivered, fingers of silvery light reached out from the center of the globe. There was something moving within, something that blended into the light so easily that it was almost unperceivable to his eyes. But it was there. He could feel it becoming stronger with each passing heartbeat. And something about it left his body numb with terror.
I gotta get out of here!
TsuYa took a step back, shaking his head, trying to get the image out of his vision. He found himself suddenly frantic to leave the chamber. One quick glance around told him there were no doors.
He choked with a huge gasping breath. The burning in his chest was unbearable. Staring down, TsuYa saw a shadow under his hand, spreading over his skin between the cracks of his clutching fingers.
“No! No! Noooo!” Swept by frenzied fear and the mounting pain, TsuYa collapsed against one of the slick walls. A howl wrenched from his lips. It began in his throat, transforming into a wraithlike shriek.
Something grasped his shoulders. Wrapped around his wrists. Hands came from the shadows, pinning his back against the wall. He heard a call, distant and distorted. Voices echoed in his mind, all calling his name. He wanted to lash out, throw off the weight. Break away and run in terror from the voices. But he was too weak to fight, too weak to think. The burning in his chest intensified with every heave of his breath.
Something cold fell across his face. It jolted him, his eyes widening, the world reeling around him. The room peeled back, his vision shattering. TsuYa realized he was staring into the pale face of Aunt SaRa, and he was dripping wet with cold water.
Her hands were on his shoulders, fighting to keep him held against the white wall of the hall in the compound of Ceiswyr. There were others there, winged people he didn’t know, some who also held him against the wall. The dim shadow of Suzume peeked from behind robes and between feathers, a look of fear plainly there despite the veiling of her eyes.
“TsuYa?” Aunt SaRa shook him, as if he had been sleepwalking. “Do you hear me, now? Tsu?”
He coughed, blinking his watery eyes, “Aunt SaRa?”
“Oh, thank goodness,” her breath gushed out, hands slowly relaxing their hold upon him.
Seeing this, the winged people moved away. A few peered at where TsuYa now slumped, half crumpled without the hands to hold him up. Someone ushered Suzume off down the hall. They all knew to give Aunt SaRa her room.
“What happened?” TsuYa heard himself ask, staring up at his aunt like a frightened little boy.
“I was hoping that you could tell me,” her tone was gentle and understanding, even in the face of the terrible unknown. “We heard you shout — it woke the whole hall up. When I came out, you were up against the wall, holding your chest. We thought you’d hurt yourself somehow.”
TsuYa lowered his eyes. Something in him yearned to tell her about the things he saw.
I’m no child that runs to an adult because of night terrors.
“When we tried to help you, you thrashed about like mad,” Aunt SaRa informed him with a grave face. “It took many of us to hold you down.”
Was that really just a dream?
“TsuYa?” she said gently into his silence.
He had nothing to say to her.
“Are you hurt?”
Gathering up all his resources, he murmured, “I’m fine.”
“You’re sure?” she was giving him his room. But there was still a trace of fear etched into her face, as if she knew there was something that ran much deeper.
“Yeah. I just want some sleep.”
“Do you want me to walk with you to your ro–”
“No, I think I can handle it.” TsuYa straightened himself, suppressing the low groan.
“Okay,” Aunt SaRa said, voice hardly a whisper. She pushed herself up on her tip toes and placed a soothing kiss on his cheek. “Good night, TsuYa.”
“‘Night, Aunt SaRa.”
He felt a little guilty as she turned, making her way back to her room. He knew he should have thanked her — other people would have pried or jabbed him with suspicion. But Aunt SaRa wasn’t like that. She somehow always knew the right way to treat him, even back when he was a kid. And he never made an effort to return the favor.
TsuYa sighed, letting the tension roll off of his shoulders. Whatever had happened, it wasn’t real.
Really creepy, but not real.
That’s when he realized that his hand was still on his chest. As he drew his palm away, TsuYa’s mind began to numb. Under the spot where his hand pressed, the flesh of his chest had turned a sickly color grey.