Hubby vs. Wifey #7: Floating House and a Weird Fairy?
This latest post has been a long time coming! After several months hiatus (thanks to pregnancy illness and the holiday busyness), Hubby vs. Wifey writing prompts is back! We chose a character and a setting back in November (Wifey the setting, Hubby the character) and have just now settled down to give them stories. Enjoy, and vote for your favorite in the comments!
Perhaps it was best that most of the time, he couldn’t see.
The fear of traversing the Mindless Gap dissipated the farther he walked in the dark, relying only on his senses of hearing, smell, and touch to guide him.
He hummed a tune to himself to pass the time – only inside his mind, of course. Making a sound of any kind would incur the wrath of creatures he couldn’t see, couldn’t imagine, and wasn’t even sure existed – at least in this world. No, he wouldn’t make a sound.
The tune he hummed inside came from far back in his memory. As he walked and crawled over the semi-solid surface that every now and then solidified into razor sharp rock, he let his mind drift back with the tune. Ah yes, it was one that his sister had created one day, back in their home as children. She was a dark-haired child of mirth and music, and he smiled at the memory. That was before the Abyss opened, of course. Mirth and music were scarce now, though not unheard of in the East Land where he had originally come. Since those days however, he had grown grim himself, and even smiles rarely creased his dark, lined face. Where was she now? He wondered idly, letting his memories play in his mind without complaint. They gave him something to “see,” if just until the stench came next to his nostrils –
There it was. The tune stopped in his mind. Every muscle grew taut, and his lungs abruptly held their air captive, squeezing his chest. Not the smell, but the sound…
The creak, the wheeze, the soughing that was not wind, or mist or rock.
It was Them.
Slowly, soundlessly, he flattened himself to the moist surface of spongy earth, blessing the fate that brought the creature to meet him here instead of to the obsidian-like rock that would cut him to pieces or bring him down when he tried to move quickly. His right foot found purchase in the sponge, and he gripped his whistle dart with practiced hands that dared not even sweat in this important moment.
The sound came again. Still from the same direction. It was just one creature then. The inky blackness in front of his eyes dissolved slowly as the sound grew nearer, wheezing in a high-pitched whine in and out, in and out. He raised the whistle to his lips and waited.
There it was. Grey mist swirled around its dripping form as it lurched weightlessly toward his scent. Its arms reached out greedily, the wheezing sound emanating from its fingertip-like feelers. Five of them. He winced. He hated the five-armed type. One could hardly keep track of all those gravity-defying clutchers. He let the disgust build in him until the creature was within range, then, he let all the compressed, stale air loose through a precise, pin-point breath. His weapon whistled shrilly with one ear-splitting blast, and as the creature reeled back ethereally in pain, the dart found its mark. With a last creaking wheeze, it fell slowly to the ground.
He raised himself and crept forward, eager to take advantage of his returned sight before the darkness decided to claim his vision again. He scanned the landscape, taking in the pillows of mist and cloud littering the grey-green rock.
There. In the distance. His destination.
He was that close then? He sucked in a breath in delight, trying to retain his concentration so as not to be taken by surprise this close to his goal.
Would They be there?
He pressed on, opening all his senses, alert for any more creatures, holding his whistle dart so tightly he could feel the blood pumping in his hand around the smooth, metal surface. Nothing challenged him, but his sight remained, so enemies were close. For one second, he let his mind express his hope that They would not be the enemies that held darkness at bay. Then he pushed aside the thought and jogged noiselessly toward the crevice ahead.
Just there – just as he’d been told. Hanging over the crevice were the ropes, the ropes that were attached to the bottom of the dwelling that floated above the crevice, a miniature version of the Abyss, daring anyone – creature or human – to try their luck and succeed or die.
The withered sun was just slipping below the horizon, giving weak, final light to the shadow of the house that beckoned him.
Without waiting for his mind to weigh options at this last step of his journey, he broke into a sprint. Calculating the distance, he took his final step, bore down hard, and leapt without reserve over the crevice.
His hands slid, then found their grip on the slimy, thick rope. For a moment, his heart stopped, for his hands could not grip tightly enough to slow the slide, but then they caught on a knot, and his fall jerked short. Breathing heavily, though still noiselessly, he climbed hand over hand, his boots bunching under him to give him added lift on the rope.
Finally, he reached the top. Gripping the rungs that led him to a hatch, he swung his legs up over his head and pushed hard. An opening in the floor was revealed above him, and he maneuvered as carefully as he could through it.
He was not prepared for the sight that met his eyes: Nothing.
A bare room with wooden furniture and cracked walls of rough-hewn log. An oil lamp burned on the table in front of him. But no one was there.
He turned slowly in a circle, feeling his heart beating rhythmically inside his ribs. Where were They?
Scanning the room again, he turned slowly in a circle, muscles tense and fists clenched. Nothing to smell, nothing to hear, and nothing but an ordinary room to see.
Just as his heartbeat slowed to a disappointed steady thump, he heard a Voice.
“Why are you here?”
He whirled, hope etching itself on his features. “I seek the Watchers,” he said. His voice came out a croak. He had not used it in many days.
“And why are you disappointed, oh Seeker?”
He cleared his throat. “They are not here.” He paused. “I have traveled long. I have hoped. My people…”
“Who are your people, oh Seeker?”
“They who have almost lost hope.”
“And will you return it to them?”
“That is my quest,” he whispered, his mouth dry with anticipation.
There was silence.
“Why do you think the Watchers will bring you hope, Seeker?”
“They are the only ones left,” he said after a moment of thought. “That is, the only ones who can face the Abyss without madness, who can challenge the Worxog.”
He opened his mouth and then closed it in confusion. “It has been said so.”
“Has it?” the Voice was mild. “And have you tried, oh Seeker?”
He licked his cracked lips. “No – of course not…I would perish as all have done…”
The Voice sounded amused. “All? Have they now?”
He blinked. The room brightened suddenly with a light that pained his eyes. He covered them with his hand and stumbled backwards.
Out of the light stepped a dark woman with wings black as night and a staff in her left hand. Gold covered her dusky hair and fair hands.
“We have been waiting for you, Seeker.” Her throaty voice was rich and powerful.
He gaped; words fled his mind. He had none left to answer.
A slight smile curved her scarlet mouth. “We will challenge the Worxog. We will close the Abyss.” She flexed her hand holding the spear, and her wings filled the room. “It is time.”
He had come to the end of his quest, his mind realized.
But no, he thought finally as he stared at the Watchers who began appearing, filling the room with their wings and proud faces, he had not reached the end of his quest.
He had arrived at the beginning.
The winds were strong and cold. The terrain, though flat, was taxing; like climbing the side of a mountain. The sun had not set nor risen for an unnaturally long time. It coasted at the edge of the horizon for endless hours on end. Jolgr had been traveling this way for days. At least, he assumed it had been days. He walked until he collapsed, then slept until he could stand and began walking again. His simple, tattered leather clothes did nothing to protect him from the dust and wind. Regardless, he never grew uncomfortably cold.
He had begun his journey just before the previous moon cycle. He had had a startling vision one night and shared it with the high shaman of his village. The shaman spoke of a place, a fissure between the end of this world and the start of the next.
¨Her home of the One Eyed Witch is in the balance of Aldenheim. Find her, tell her of what you have seen, and she will give you the answers you seek.¨
As a child, Jolgr had always understood Aldenheim to be a place where the world ceased to exist, like a physical representation of Ragnarok. But this place he was traversing, this was something else entirely.
He heard the subtle flapping of wings overhead and regretted he had no bow to bring one down. He could not remember when he last ate.
He looked up and saw a small flock of birds flying past overhead. The birds he did not recognize, but that wasn´t what concerned him. The clouds behind the flock were moving at an unsettling pace that almost made them look as if they were flying backwards. He lowered his eyes and caught sight of the horizon and almost lost his footing. Now that he could see the birds against the stillness of the land; he could see clearly that they were indeed flying tail first. Their movements seemed normal, the tilt of their heads, the folding of their wings, but they were moving in the wrong direction.
This place is not right, he thought to himself.
He closed his eyes, took a breath, and started forward again.
He continued his journey in this manner for some time longer. He was unaware of how many days had passed since he had left the normal world. The barren, flat landscape was unyielding in its loneliness. He collapsed rather suddenly - completely unable to move. His arms and legs refused to respond. Resigning to his fatigue, Jolgr fell into a restless sleep.
After what felt like mere minutes, Jolgr twitched awake. The wind was stronger now and moving in the opposite direction it had when he had fallen. Slowly, he pulled his arms under him and pulled himself to his feet.
Either he had moved in his sleep, or the world around him had. He was unsure of which was less likely. Before him was a crack in the ground, a gorge that stretched as far as his eyes could see from the left horizon to the right. The wind around him was pouring over the edge into the crevice but allowed him to keep his footing. He moved tentatively to the edge and looked down. The wind was carrying dust and small debris and traveled down endlessly into darkness. Jolgr tried in vain to comprehend his new surroundings.
As he surveyed the canyon, a vine or root appeared dangling halfway across the distance. Had it just appeared, or had he just not noticed it? His eyes followed it up until it met with the bottom of a small home. A small one room shack was floating, suspended in the air between the two sides of this crack in the earth. There was a single window through which Jolgr could see flickering firelight. Something in the back of his mind told him this was the dwelling of the Witch.
He stared absentmindedly at the seemingly weightless home trying to think of a way inside. Our of the corner of his eye, he saw, or thought he saw, the vine under the house twitch. It shook slightly, moved toward the ledge where he stood, against the wind, and back in place again.
There must be another way...
His arms and legs were simply too weak to attempt such a thing. Even if he were able to jump the distance to the vine, he knew he would not have the strength to climb it to the top. He fell to his knees overwhelmed with weariness and growing despair.
So close. I´ve come so close, and can do nothing. She´ll be coming any day, and I can do nothing.
A vision came to him. He could see his wife, Astrid, with their newborn daughter, Hælga, in her arms. She stood just outside their home. She was staring at him, tears streaking down her cheeks. The sky turned blood red and their house burst into flames. Jolgr reached out for Astrid, but could not feel his arms. He shouted for her, but was silent. Astrid and Hælga too burst into flames, instantly turned to ash, and blew away in the breeze. A familiar form appeared silhouetted against the crimson clouds and started to descend on the house.
Jolgr´s vision cleared, hot tears running down his face. He felt a burning in his chest that slowly spread through his body. It may have been desperation, but the house seemed ever so slightly closer now. If he jumped, he might just catch the vine...
Without hesitating, Jolgr got to his feet and sprinted toward the edge. The wind behind him seemed to pick up and throw him as he leapt for the house. His heart sank. Now that he was in the air he could see clearly: he was too far away.
He strained and stretched as far as he could knowing it was futile. He felt a sharp pain in his shoulder and back and he tried to catch the vine. Suddenly, just as he was falling near the end of the vine, it shot out into his open palm.
The wind couldn´t have done that...could it?
His grip tightened around the vine with only a hand width to spare. Cautiously, he pulled himself up to take hold with his other hand. With surprising ease, he was able to climb, hand over hand, to the top of the vine, find purchase under the home, and make his way to a small landing by the front door.
In this space between the sides of the canyon, there was weirdly no wind and hardly any sound. He could hear his blood beating loudly in his ears. He knocked on the door and felt it was uncomfortably loud. Several moments passed before there was a response.
Jolgr pressed on the door and it opened silently. Inside, the house was warm and surprisingly comfortable for its simplicity. It felt larger inside than it had appeared on the outside. There were simple furnishings and a small fireplace on the far side. Various dried herbs and roots were handing from the ceiling. A petite, hunched figure was turning away from the fire holding a pair of steaming cups. He could see now an elderly woman with thin, silver hair gathered in braids that reached to the floor. Her face was wrapped in course strips of cloth that covered her eyes. Or perhaps, if the shaman was correct, her single eye.
She shuffled over to him and offered one of the cups to him. After he took it, she gestured to an open chair near him. He sat and she took a chair opposite him so as to face him directly.
¨you are here because you seek answers¨
She had not spoken. She had not moved and her mouth had not opened. But he heard a voice clearly in his mind; a soft, ageless voice. It spoke just above a whisper, but he heard it plainly and clearly. His mind drifted back to what his village shaman had told him.
¨yes he was right to send you to me¨
I should tell her about my vision
¨drink first then show my your vision before I can tell you anything¨
Slowly, Jolgr lifted his cup to his lips. The woman mimicked his movements and they drank together. When he brought his cup down, the room had vanished and he was standing in the center of his village beside the old woman.
Flames engulfed every home. Women and children were running, screaming. The men were lying dead in piles all around. Blood was pooling together and running between the homes in small streams. Above the flames was the figure from before.
The figure was a woman. Her clothes were black like the midnight sky and her armor flaming gold like the sun. On her back were two giant wings with feathers dark like a raven. She held a golden spear in her hand with which she had killed all the fighting men of the village. All around her was ruin, and she reveled in it.
¨she is returning¨
Again, the world shifted and Jolgr was now standing with the Witch in the ruins of what appeared to be a foreign temple. The stones were ancient. It had clearly been many generations since this structure had fallen. The Witch turned to face Jolgr, but she too had changed. She was taller, straighter and younger. Her hair was bright red and a single, green eye was in the middle of her forehead. She held out her hands to Jolgr and offered him an axe. As he reached for it she began to speak with a booming, powerful voice.
¨You witnessed Asmira, the Bringer of Balance. She has looked upon the sons of men and is displeased. She will come and bring ruin to all people. She fears their strength and seeks to bring them low. I fear that she will show no mercy and may bring about the end of mankind. You must take this weapon, Draugrvanir, the God Slayer, and defend your people. If you fail, it will be the end of all.¨
When Jolgr took hold of Draugrvanir, it burst into flames, but he could not feel them. The flames spread up his arm, and he watched as his flesh turned the color and texture of white-hot iron. He could feel power flow through his body like he had never felt before.
The Witch pulled him in close to her and spoke with an earnestness that both scared and encouraged him, ¨Do not fail.¨
She put her hand on his forehead and shoved his head back. As she did, the world around him rushed past like he was falling from a great cliff. He tumbled head over heels, his vision spinning.
He landed, or rather the ground came to his feet, back in his village, his arm still ablaze. Several people around him stared in awe at Jolgr´s strange appearance. Shouts caught the attention of everyone as they all turned to the sky.
A rip tore through the heavens, and through it stepped a dark goddess just as Jolgr had seen. The end of mankind was at hand. Jolgr gripped Draugrvanir and his whole body erupted in divine fire.
He was ready.