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    version 22: awakening


    GHAUL -- Year 209


    "(souls are not meant to live more than once — death was not meant to be temporary, and she is so sure that every time her heart starts to beat again that irreversible damage is further inflicted)" -- Anonya, written by Colby

    we are infinite as the universe we hold inside; firion
    She has been in this place long enough now that nothing feels strange anymore - in fact, perhaps it would seem more strange if this world suddenly found a shade of predictability. At first she had tried to shape it into her own dreamscape, to take all of it for herself, and it might’ve been greedy if she weren’t just a child with eyes too big for her stomach. But she had so much time to learn, and so much time to be made more gentle by the ache of loneliness carving room out around the shape of her heart. It taught her to keep only a small corner for herself, only what should be hers anyway.

    But she can still feel when other dreamers awaken in deeper parts of the dreamscape - and feel almost intimately when those dreams are broken down by nightmares that leave their respective minds restless and worried. It is a feeling that settles inside her bone-deep and fills her with a pain that makes her stomach roil. An uneasiness that makes her want to retreat to her home in this sleeping-place, where mushrooms tower like trees and flowers are large enough to sleep in, the petals as soft and pink as a sunrise.

    Time has no meaning, no day or night that follows any kind of pattern she can discern, so she sleeps only when she is tired and doesn’t wait for the blue to drain from a daytime sky. It would be so strange to live with her family, she thinks, where there is always day and always night, and both are as dependable as the ground and the sky, which, admittedly, are not very dependable here.

    It is an unfamiliar concept, and it makes her smile.

    She feels the tug of someone dreaming nearby, like an echo in her skin that whispers quietly of a tired nothing. Her feet pause beneath her, and that delicate red and white face cants gently to the side as though she is listening to that silence. She blinks, and she is gone from her corner of the dreamscape, bobbing as a firefly through a place that is so dark and so bleak. She had learned this too, that her body in this place is only a placesaver, that it exists because mama and mother made it so. But she doesn’t need it to exist here, she is merely a thought, merely a concept.

    It is lonely, but she has learned not to be afraid of it.

    It isn’t quite a nightmare, and it certainly isn’t a dream. It’s something less than both, not even in-between. Just lonely, like this mind had nothing left to give to the dreamscape when it surrendered to sleep. Iri can feel him nearby, all dreamers have a kind of energy she cannot name, an individual spark that makes hers flare a little brighter when she feels them. But it is so dark in this nothing-dream, and with her tiny firefly eyes she can see nothing at all. So she builds for him, something gentle at first because she knows what it is to feel empty, and if this is the manifestation of that, she is so careful not to make him feel smaller. She knows what that feels like too.

    She builds a forest that sits like a dark and emerald crown in the deep shadows around them, fills the branches with leaves and light, a million soft stars because she is so hopeful to catch a glimpse of his face as the deepest dark recedes. Then her eyes find the ground and the nothing there, too, and after a momentary flicker of surprise she fills it with pale green moss because it is the softest thing she can imagine. She fills that with soft light too as she bobs closer in her firefly body to the figure at the center of all this quiet green and pale galaxy.

    Is it too much, is it too bright? She wonders, feeling worry bubbling in her chest as she wanders close to that shape in the heart of this little world. But it isn’t until she is beside him that she’s able to make out the hint of gold and the shape of this boy. Four legs, two ears, a face like hers - and she is so immediately thrilled, so filled with joy in her gentle way that this is a boy and not a fox, not a bird, not a badger. He is like her, and she is no longer alone. “Hello.” she says, and her voice is like starlight as she finds her body again, laying beside his wavering form, as though he is too tired to be here at all. But she wants him to stay, if he doesn’t mind, wants this friend. She watches him a moment, wills his shape to stop flickering in and out, lays down her head and presses her nose to his shoulder, marveling at the warmth of him, how real he feels. “My name is Iridian, but my family calls me Iri.” She hesitates, pulling back to watch him with eyes too blue to be any single nameable shade. “Would you mind staying here with me for a little while?”


    we are infinite as the universe we hold inside


    that day even the sun was afraid of you and the weight you carried

    It becomes too much, eventually. The running. The fear. The pretending. He spends his night in a body that he does not know and yet claims him anyway. He feels the life bleed from him until he is nothing but a hunger and a primal terror. He runs until he cannot any longer. Until it takes all of his effort to move at all—until his bones creak and his flesh falls away and the golden body of his turns into ash.

    Until he is not handsome and young and strong.

    Until he is not the son of the panther and the angel.

    Until he is nothing at all.

    And the days? He does not stop running then, although it is more metaphorical. When the life floods him again, it comes with shame, with horror, with disbelief. He finds that he cannot sleep then either. He throws himself into conversations where he can pretend that he is still Firion. He moves through the land that he had trudged through the night before and tries to soak in the hours of living until it is taken.

    But it is not sustainable and, eventually, this is stripped away from him too.

    Sleep does not come sweetly or gently. Instead it is dark and violent. It washes over him like an ocean wave during the storm and he is dragged into the undertow before he can stop it. His mind turns dark and the rest of the world grows dim, dull, as he slumps to the ground and the sleep overtakes him.


    When he wakes, it is to a gentle bell. Soft and quiet—tinkering in the background of his conscious mind. It stirs him enough that he only murmurs. His dream body twitches slightly as he stretches, but even here, he is not awake enough to press through the fog of his own exhaustion. A single golden eye flickers open and the world around is blurred, quiet, magnificent. He groans and stretches his cheek out against the ground that very suddenly feels like that of a forest, the moss a cushion that he does not deserve.

    He hears her greeting and he frowns, trying to break through the darkness.

    Trying to form the words to greet her.

    It does not come and he slumps again, the weight of it pressing against his shoulder blades. It is only when he feels the brush of her touch that the rest begins to clear. “Iri,” he murmurs, his voice thick in his throat, his tongue swollen. His lips curve into a smile and he nearly forgets everything that has driven him here. All of the demons that he keeps locked into the very back of his mind suddenly quiet.

    “My name is Firion,” his eyes remain closed. “My family calls my Firion.”

    so you saluted every ghost you've ever prayed to and then buried it where bones are buried

    She is not sure of how much time passes as she watches him, waits for him to fully exist here in this place she’s built so carefully for the two of them. But she watches the outline of him solidify, watches the hint of gold blossom bright over his skin like liquid sunlight, broken up only by the dark of spots so much like hers. There is a slowly blossoming beam on her lips as the rosettes unfurl across him, and she is so nearly glowing with delight as those gentle blue eyes leap to find the color of his and memorize them for later.

    But they are still closed, still a secret that leaves her wanting.

    Her attention on him, while gentle, is something so completely unabashed, like she hasn’t had a chance to learn the perils of staring too much, like too much is a concept still outside of her reach. He is so much like her, and it is all the reason she needs to explore him more, to grin more softly and flicker those happy ears at him when she peers down at him and watches his tired body stir, go still, stir again.

    He is trying to be here, she thinks, trying to let her keep him awhile. He frowns, and her heart slides down the curve of his mouth, falling and sinking and nearly uncertain until that same mouth reshapes to speak her name. His voice is different than she expected - rough, where she had been expecting something soft, something more like the way autumn sounds at dawn. She likes it anyway, storing this sound he’s given her, this gift of her name repeated, for a time later when she is inevitably alone again.

    And then he smiles, and she is dazed by the wings suddenly beating wildly in her chest as she races to catch the words fluttering away beside them. But they’re flying too high and she cannot seem to catch a single one, except, “Firion.” She whispers back, those doe eyes wide and gentle and every shade of blue, every sky, every ocean. She trips again, trying to gather those fleeing words, and then smiles bashfully despite that he cannot see her. Or he is choosing not to see her?

    That thought gives her pause.

    “Are you afraid of me?” She wonders, even wider-eyed now as she tries to make herself seem smaller. She leans down a little deeper into the mossy ground, letting those bright red and pale blue feathered wings droop at either side like they are melting into quiet sleep. “It’s okay if you open your eyes, I promise I’m not a nightmare.” The idea is of course preposterous. She is built delicately like a doe - cloven hooves and soft wings, fur red and white and spotted like a cat, navy eyes almost strangely large on such a slender face. He could no more be frightened of her than he could be intimidated by a mewling fawn. Still, "I promise you can trust me."


    we are infinite as the universe we hold inside


    that day even the sun was afraid of you and the weight you carried

    He could open his eyes, he knows, but there is a piece of him that does not want to find what it might be. He believes that this is a dream—but he does not know for certain. Does not know that he is indeed trapped in the dreamscape of her own making. That he has somehow managed to trip past the outskirts of his own consciousness into a place where he is not the master or the creator but just a pawn within it.

    (He would not mind, does not mind. Not when the creation is so sweet.)

    Still—it is not easy to relinquish his control, his need to run, and he is afraid of what he will find when he does open his eyes. Would she be staring down at him in the form that finds him at midnight? He does not feel that ash in his mouth, the hollow bones. He does not feel the absence of life in him—the way that his blood runs cold and thick, like sludge in his veins. But he cannot know for sure.

    Perhaps it is a trick.

    He does not want to confirm that she is seeing him like that.

    So his eyes remain closed and he just listens to the silver bells of the mysterious girl’s voice. He lets it wash over him like a balm and he sinks into the space between the conscious and the not. Lets himself get lost in the daze, the gauzy middle. His body flickers again, barely hanging onto its place next to her.

    “I am not afraid,” he starts, that rough voice barely there but hold on, “of you, at least.” Another groan in the back of his throat as he stretches, wondering at the relief he finds in the motion. (He could not be dead, he thinks, when it feels so certainly like blood flooding his veins.) “I don’t want to open my eyes and for it all to fade away,” a confession—something he would never give if he was awake.

    This, more than anything, convinces him. His guard would never be so low in the real world. He would have found his armor by now—not sunk into the quicksand of this vulnerability.

    So, finally, he pulls himself slightly more upward.

    He angles toward her and then his molten gold eyes open to finds her.

    “What are you then?”

    so you saluted every ghost you've ever prayed to and then buried it where bones are buried

    Each time the image of him flickers it feels like teeth catching in her chest, like her heart is wilting and loneliness is creeping back into these brand new gaps inside her. She knows he could be gone from her in an instant, and she doesn’t know enough about the gift to be able to easily find him again. She knows the note of his song, the song of his strand, but then most songs still sound so similar to her dreaming ears. Maybe his is quieter than most though, comprised of a weariness she is so far unfamiliar with in her short, strange existence.

    She is glad when he tells her he isn’t afraid of her, and a gentle kind of heat rises to her face, pulled there by the tide of her smile when she beams back at him. But the part that does bother him is close to the things that scares her too, and so the smile slips from her mouth as though it is suddenly too heavy for such delicate lips. “Me neither.” She whispers, and she’s trying so hard not to let her eyes look as sad as her heart feels in that moment, tries hard not to let the fissures in her chest reflect like valleys of bottomless dark in the navy of her eyes. “I wouldn’t know how to bring you back, or where to find you again.” It never occurs to her that this admission of impermanence might shift the nature of the mood they share now.

    She does not know permanence, but perhaps if she did she would understand why he might not try to befriend someone so fleeting. There is no pain in a goodbye when there is no love lost.

    Her eyes are riveted to him now as he stretches and she can feel her own body sigh at knowing how good it feels to do so, better when there is warm sun to bask beneath. So she builds him a tiny sun, small and wholly his, gentle and golden to warm his body. But she is so ill prepared for the moment he pulls himself up and his face finds hers in this hazy in between, this dawn and dusk, a heliotrope drawn to her sun. “Hello.” She whispers, blinks, as though they haven’t already had this conversation. But when his golden eyes open and capture her in their jeweled depths, it certainly feels brand new again.

    In his eyes she relearns the color gold, discovers shades and shadows she never knew existed. “If I had lived I would be like you, I think. Except a girl, of course.” She clarifies quickly, navy eyes wide at the clumsiness of her thoughts. She blinks, disappears for a second into the dark behind her eyelids, where his beautiful golden eyes are still branded into the sightless black. Then she opens them again, feeling heartbroken over the loss of him even though it hasn’t happened yet. It will. “But because I didn’t, I can be anything now. Would you like to see?”


    we are infinite as the universe we hold inside


    that day even the sun was afraid of you and the weight you carried

    She is the realest thing that he has ever known—even though she is as thin as gossamer. He wants to reach for her, to hold her, and he is afraid for what will happen when he does. Will she disintegrate beneath his touch completely? Will she fade into the dark? He struggles to imagine that, struggles to think of her simply dissolving into the darkness, but the closeness of the reality makes his heart thrum.

    “You would find me,” he promises, even though he has no idea how this magic works. No idea who or what she is. “Or maybe I would find you.” There’s a hint of mischief in his smile then, a hint of the boy that he could have been if it weren’t for this curse turning his blood cold. He imagines that she is his to find. Imagines that she is nothing but the figment of his mind. A salve for the mental wounds he suffers.

    He is not sure that he could have dreamed her up though. Her gentleness, her gift. The sun warms him and he feels his rigid muscles relax in this world, the venom in them releasing until he is nearly whole again.

    “I think you would have been much better,” he says with that same crooked smile—the most genuine one he has given in weeks. It does not stop the way that his heart trips in his chest though. The sudden cold rush at what she had said. “Do you not live?” his voice drops, grows a touch huskier with the worry that he can’t completely block from it. “You feel so very alive to me.” More alive than he feels most days.

    Certainly more alive than he feels most nights.

    “I think you should be yourself,” he leans forward to touch her cheek lightly.

    She doesn’t disintegrate, and he is not sure whether he is surprised or not.

    so you saluted every ghost you've ever prayed to and then buried it where bones are buried



    She wonders how he can be so sure that she could find him again, but his faith in her is a balm that brings a smile to those pale, uncertain lips. She remains unsure though until he speaks again and his grin brings a storm of wings fluttering to life inside her slender chest. “We’ll find each other.” She promises back, loving the shade of mischief in those golden eyes. “Where do you live?” Her navy eyes soften again with a shy kind of uncertainty that comes from talking about something she doesn’t quite understand. “I think my family is in a place called Tephra. Maybe I’ll be there too someday.”

    She only just barely manages to bite back the unspoken, if you want to wait for me to exist. It seems too big a thing to ask when they’ve only just barely met. Especially when there is no way to know when, let alone if, she’ll be corporeal someday. But even if he doesn’t want to remember a ghost for that long, she’s absolutely certain she will remember this moment forever.

    But the moment passes and she finds that watching him is not unlike watching a prism. There is so much more than what she finds at the surface of him, so many facets and layers and shades - and when his voice changes with that thread of worry winding through him, she is surprised at the shy ache that blooms in her chest. “Not better than you.” She disagrees, her face melting into a gentle kind of stubbornness that will be new to him. “I am quite sure that is impossible.” She says it with a sense of indisputable finality until his worry thaws her.

    The look in his golden eyes makes her hesitate. “I,” but she pauses, her eyes soft and luminous, her brow furrowed deeply beneath the tangles of a bright red forelock, “well it’s no big deal, really, I just wasn’t born with my brother. Something happened and my moms had to bring me here instead.” She waits a beat to make sure he seems okay with this new information, then continues just as gently protective of him as she had been before. “I’m as real as any dream you’ve ever had.”

    And then he touches her cheek and all the motion goes out of the world around them as though she’s trying to capture every single detail in perfect, permanent accuracy. “Myself.” She whispers, eyes locked so completely on his, blue against gold, night against day. There is no warning when the butterflies in her chest find a sudden tangibility and burst from her in silhouettes of shining golden glitter, betraying her far more thoroughly than any blush ever could. She blinks, breaking their gaze to glance down and brush the golden glitter residue from where it settled over her bright chestnut patches. “Well that was,” she frowns, blushes, searches for a word that allows her to hold onto any semblance of casualness, “random.” Her navy eyes lift to the sky to watch her glowing butterflies drift out of sight.

    that day even the sun was afraid of you and the weight you carried

    He is not sure that he should be the kind of boy to make promises, although there is a part of him that would very much like to be. So even though pieces of his mind hold him back—tell him that he should not whisper such things to her. Should not promise things he cannot keep to girls made of dreams, he flings himself into it anyway. He is reckless—stupid, he will tell himself later—but he doesn’t mind.

    “Deal,” he says.

    We will find each other, he thinks, wondering if she knows how dark it will be where he is.

    Still, his demons cannot find him here and he does not invite them. For a moment, he is just a boy and there is no mask that he wears. He is not pretending. He is just Firion. He is charming and mischievous and playful. He has a rogue’s smile that tips his lips into crooked lines. He has the honest kind of face of someone who has never known lies. Here, Firion is not cursed. Not weighed down by the truth.

    He is set free.

    Enough so that he does not fight her when her face turns stubborn—when she denies that she would be better than him even though he knows in so many ways how wrong she is. He just smiles, laughs low in the back of his throat, and shakes his head lightly. “Hyaline,” he finally answers, realizing that he had not answered her yet. “Although I don’t know how much longer I will live there.” He had said it to Mazikeen. Still, he hasn’t left yet. Momentum, perhaps—or perhaps he hasn’t had time to find something better.

    His eyes darken a little as he listens to her story. As he feels something like grief remind him of who he has and pull him slightly out of this daydream of happiness. Of course she is not alive, he thinks. Of course she only exists here. It feels more painful than he had thought it would, to realize that he could only find her in his dreams. “Okay,” he finally says, feeling how deeply inadequate the word is.

    “My dreams never come to me,” he admits, wondering if she will know why he rarely sleeps. That he spends his nights in a haze—reduced to stumbling around the world in a body that he does not recognize. “And I struggle to find them.” It’s the most honest he can bring himself to be with her. The most honest he can be while he desperately hides the monster away. “But if we find each other, it will be real.”

    He will find her again, he thinks.

    She will find him.

    He will find his way back.

    The desperate plea of his thoughts shatters as the golden butterflies burst into the sky and his eyes brighten, chasing back the shadows as he watches the fall down into the ground beneath them.

    It emboldens him, chases back the fear that this is just for a moment.

    “I like random,” he says, his smile shy but his eyes knowing.

    so you saluted every ghost you've ever prayed to and then buried it where bones are buried

    She is still busy staring up at the sky like she has absolutely no idea what those not so metaphorical escaped butterflies could possibly be all about. Busy pretending there is no heat climbing to her face, no shy shine in the navy of such soft, sweet eyes. She isn’t sure why she is so busy pretending at these things, but she does know when he turns and smiles at her that she is in so far over her head with this boy.

    She fumbles for a moment, searching the most recently escaped moments for things she can talk about. Things that aren’t butterflies or feelings or the way his grin makes her eyes shine like dark sapphires. “Hyaline.” She thinks the word has a funny taste on her tongue, like trying to spit out a sound that doesn’t wholly want to leave. It doesn’t sound familiar, and she wonders where it lies on the maps her family have built for her. “Are you leaving?” But of course he must be if he isn’t sure how much longer he’ll live there, so she amends her question. “Where else would you go?”

    It feels almost silly to ask him, because it’s very likely she would not know the name of any other place he might say. Tephra is home, or it would have been if she were allowed to stay with her family. She knows about the tropic heat and the swaying palms, knows about the volcano and the veins of glowing magma that mark the land like forbidden trails. She knows just that one place, but she knows it in such detail that she thinks she could show it to Firion if he wanted to see it.

    “I could try to build you a home here.” She whispers, and they weren’t words meant to be spoken aloud, are just a thought escaped without her permission. But they find new life once they’ve escaped her, growing like flowers in the backs of those dark eyes. “You could try to find it when you sleep, maybe it would be easier to find if it’s a place meant for you. If we build it together.”


    we are infinite as the universe we hold inside


    that day even the sun was afraid of you and the weight you carried

    Her questions strip away his defenses until he is nearly forced to stare back into the darkness that chased him here in the first place. Until he is nearly drowning again in the pain and anguish that had driven him from the shadows every night, death coating his tongue and pulling apart his very bones. Until he is almost a shell of himself once more, stumbling forward on legs that can barely bear his weight.

    “I am, I think,” he answers before she can amend the question and then he shrugs. “I don’t know.” He softens it with another smile, but this one doesn’t quite reach his eyes. They stay more solemn this time, the gold of them darkening as the shadows creep around the corners. “Maybe that’s why I haven’t left yet.” He has nowhere to go, he knows. Nowhere to find home because there is no home for someone like him. There is only the endless promise of the run, the endless pain that will always be at his heels.

    He doesn’t want to bring that here though.

    Doesn’t want to poison this moment with his reality.

    So he gladly pushes it to the side and instead lets himself believe the fantasy that she offers. Gladly lets himself think that perhaps he will be able to find sleep and instead of running through the night chased by his curse, he will be able to curl up next to her in this world of her own creation.

    His pulse eases the more that he lets himself believe.

    “I would like for this to be my home,” he says softly, his voice slightly huskier, his lips curling upward in the corners. “I would gladly wear myself to the bone to find my way back here.” Does she know how much something like this means to someone like him? How relieved he is, would be, to always have a place like this to anchor himself? She couldn’t possibly. Couldn’t know the oasis that she has offered him.

    “Where should we start?”

    so you saluted every ghost you've ever prayed to and then buried it where bones are buried


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