If so, feel free to leave a comment. If you hated it, leave a comment! I find that the greatest way to improve is to look at the most scathing of critiques, wallow in shame and self pity, then get back to writing. Nothing makes you humble like being reminded that you still have room to grow.
The Meridian was a patchwork quilt; its pieces bore shadows cast by all that was, is, and must never be. Without end, it stretched to keep pace with the material plane. Wisps of every color imaginable and more soared across boundless depths, a permanent meteor shower of souls, both new and ancient, filled a starless night sky. Most faded gently as they passed an unseen partition above, but a precious few fell groundward, casting distant yet ephemeral flashes into the horizon.
Nan sat astride a great stalked plant topped with a bulb much larger than her head. Wet, loamy earth pulled at her seat, the air smelled thickly of pollen.
Not three paces forward, a clear pond boarded by sandy sediment that couldn’t have formed from her current position housed a miniature shark. An extra set of spiked ribs hugged its body from the outside. It swam in constant lazy circles, like a monstrous pet idling in a tank.
Yet further, the sandbank gave way to an expanse of open ocean. The whym exuded from the place was thick enough to tingle on the edge of Nan’s senses. At the center of it all, a ship of warped wood drifted mere inches above the water on six gnarled wings. As if acknowledging Nan’s presence, it unfurled sails darker than obsidian. There, emblazoned upon the center of the largest was a lone red skull, its jaws fashioned into a cruel grin.
“Do not look at that.”
And the surrounding terrain bent with nauseating quickness. A painting on top of water gone spiraling down the drain. Walls and a brightly lit ceiling of marble, or at least something like it, enveloped them. Soft carpet gave way under her.
Nan rubbed at her eyes, doing nothing to get rid of the motes of light dancing across her vision. There were no windows in Gawain’s copy-pasted domain, but just outside, the rest of the Meridian still churned with strange whym.
She wondered if her experience was anything close to that of the degenerate bath salt huffers her mom warned her about.
Nan checked under the calf area of her slacks, one of many Izusa was kind enough to fetch for her after her first day. No soggy dirt was attached. Odd, but she wasn’t going to complain.
“Oriented?” Gawain asked. He sat atop three of his tails while idly waving the other. It curled at the middle to change directions rather than the base.
“Uh, yea. Thanks. What was that thing?”
“The ship?” He asked. Receiving a nod, Gawain set his errant tail down, shifting to a more professional posture. “It belongs to a fiend, most likely, or a very talented median like Sier.”
“A fiend? I thought you were being figurative.” Nan said.
“If only I were.” Gawain said. “It would surely be for the better.”
Despite the unsettling translation choice, they weren’t quite analogous to demons, not in the biblical or leather pants wearing, trashy novel dwelling sense. They were Meridian natives made of emotionally charged whym clumps that decided it would be super cool to actually do something with their existence. Typical forms ranged from mockeries of common animals to horrors that resist description and spill the blood of innocents for sport.
“Wait, we actually do the chalk circle thing?”
Gawain smiled. It was neat and uncanny at the same time, deer weren’t supposed to have the face muscles needed to do that. “It is an antiquated method, popular amongst the truly old or theatrical.” He said.
Gawain cut the explanation short with a flick of his tail. “We’ve more important things to discuss than those who creep along the edges of real space.
“Your allegiance to the Vesa, Margrave Chitani, or the Lian Consolidated Worlds means nothing to me, but know this,” Gawain’s voice grew harsh. “Raise your hand against Sier, and you shall die, even if I must go with you.”
Nan leaned backwards. Whym settled against her throat, a knife-like pressure, cold and resolute.
Had she the misfortune to die years ago, when her ruminations were on Seuss and secret treehouses rather than Mendel and eutrophication, she would consider Gawain to be very cool. Even without her rose tinted glasses, she could understand the sentiment behind such a threat, truly she could. Nan would say the same thing for her brother or little cousins. Being on the receiving end of such a declaration, however, wasn’t cool in the slightest.
“I swear on my home planet that I’ll never even think about it. Good enough?” Nan asked. She didn’t know the exact value of her word, but it wasn’t a hard thing to dispense. She held no ill for Sier, and couldn’t think of anything that may change that, even if the time came to slink off to parts unknown.
“More than enough.” Gawain’s foreboding presence disappeared as quickly as it arrived. “With that bit of unpleasantness aside…”
Whym flowed. It held an alien taint, and indescribable sense of potential that shared a certain similarity to the Meridian’s. A complex of silver spell strands braided around each other, stretching until it crossed half the distance between Nan and the herald. A pristine rope, frayed on one end. No, incomplete on one end.
What came next was intuitive, though even harder to describe than the Meridian. “reaching” was the most apt word she could come up with. Nan simply bade her whym forward, and her sigil curled to take on the same stranded form as Gawain’s whym. Flames twisted together with grace and purpose. No messy, uncooperative snagging, no embarrassing over usage of energy; just a natural movement, a breath, a greeting. There was a noticeable drop in her reserves, though nothing too severe.
The two gleaming cords of silver and purple touched for the briefest moment, only to slough off of each other. Magnets of incompatible poles. Nan frowned, setting her teeth against another attempt.
And another, and another, and one more.
Each time, Nan’s reserves slackened until nothing but a dull trickle came forward when she tried to draw more. And there was more, deep within her inextinguishable soul, but her body and will couldn’t safely channel it.
Unacceptable. The burgeoning connection was right there, so close to completion, to wholeness, all she needed was a little more wyhm. A job unfinished was something Nan had no love for. Just a handful, that was all she needed, then it would be-
Cancelled. Retracted. Denied.
“We have to stop.” Gawain said, fixing Nan the most adorable pouty face ever. Of course, he would probably call it a grimace, but it was most certainly a pout. Completely on impulse, Nan found herself rubbing the top of his head.
Weird. Nan knew Gawain was cute enough to pat, but a certain respect for personal boundaries kept her from doing so. Now it was gone. It felt like she finished a jillion mile trek before one-shotting an essay. There was something fuzzy in front of her. Fuzzy things were for patting, so pat she did.
“Hm. Your ears are even fluffier.” Pat. Pat. Pat. Gawain was a good sport about it, closing one eye and placing his front hooves against her wrist rather than biting her. Deer bit people sometimes, right?
On one end, she felt like complete and total crap, if a particularly stiff wind were to billow about, she’d likely be incapable of walking against it, but why would she want to walk? She had a living pseudo-Arthurian stuffed animal in front of her, people don’t see those every day.
“Burnout,” he said with the same disappointed tone Nan’s dentist used when she got her first cavity. It didn’t suit Gawain at all. He was a cool sounding fluffy knight, not a tooth puller!
Gawain gently batted Nan’s hand away before she could scratch behind his other ear. Could he read her thoughts? Maybe she shouldn’t have thought about that last one, it wasn’t nice, comparing someone to a dentist.
“I neglected your wellbeing, this shouldn’t have happened.” Gawain said.
In a moment of half saliency that surprised even herself, Nan asked, “This is how Sier feels?”
With some trepidation, Gawain nodded. “Without fifteen hours of sleep every cycle.” He bobbed his tiny little deer head away, missing Nan’s renewed ear scratching attempt by an inch.
“You’re a good person.”
“Your words are heartening,” Gawain said, taken aback. “though I’m no-” He dodged another attempt on his fluffy right ear.
Gawain did the swirling swirly thingy again, and they were back in the cozy magic library with the bird motifs and sigil books.
“Sleep for now, we can try again when you recover.”
“Okay.” Nan didn’t want to sleep, she wanted to do the super link today, she couldn’t be useless forever. It was bad form. But Gawain said go to sleep, and he was probably an expert on when to sleep. Besides, she did feel rather tired. Nan curled up like a cat. No, Nan curled up like a lion! Lions were like, a million times cooler than cats.
Gawain poked Nan in the side. She knew for a fact that she wasn’t snoring, she didn’t even get to fall asleep yet! Sighing, he said, “In your own room, please.”
“Okay…” Nan hung her head in disappointment because it was disappointing. She wanted to see if she could use Gawain’s belly as a pillow, appearances could go die in a hole.
Right, right, right. A million time, right!
All of the nuance, all of the social posturing, all of the stuff that made for a respectable appearance; she wished she cared less about it! What was a reputation worth if it meant boxing herself in?
“It’s the truth Gawain, the real truth!” Nan clenched her fist, grasping her forearm with her free hand. She pressed a burning gaze into Gawain’s eyes.
“As you say.” he replied. “Just remain here. I will summon help.” Gawain left in a puff of magical windy dusty stuff and she was all alone forever. Which lasted long enough for a mouse-eared lian in robes to poof back with him, tablet in hand.
“Miss Beauchamp, correct?” He asked, looking down at her.
“Mm.” Nan nodded with a lazy smile. What was it that she was just thinking about?
It didn’t matter, probably. The mouse guy was much slower with his spelling than Gawain or Yara, a strand within his gavel-like sigil lit up long before space warped around her. The lull was enough to allow a most pertinent consideration to develop.
“Hey, can you hold still for a bit?” Nan wanted, no, she needed to compare his fuzziness to Gawain’s. Her fingers nearly brushed the mouse lian’s blonde ear, only to end up grasping air a short distance above her bed.
She slumped into her mattress with a huff. “So close,” Nan murmured into her pillow.
Was it just her, or did her slightly chilly little cubicle of a room suddenly become the softest, most comfortable place ever?
Author’s Note: I do not share Nan’s opinion on dentists, dentists are heros who fight the horrors of tooth decay, day and night so that you may live out your days in bliss.