“Oh! Oh… I… Oh, no.”
Thessi stammered, leaning away from Bartholomew.
He, her pupil, had just managed to sneak a brief kiss onto her lips, quite unexpectedly.
A nervous smile curled Thessi’s lips before she could politely hide it behind her delicate hand. Rings on all of her thin fingers glinted in the cozy orange light of a nearby lamp.
She considered for a quick moment.
Bartholomew wasn’t necessarily unattractive, for a human, at least. Skin tanned from hours of recreation under the desert suns, fine muscles discernible even under his loose shirt, thick brown hair curling just above his dark brows and striking blue eyes.
Still… at a mere 35 years of age, he was just so… young.
Quickly, she stood and began gathering her things. The delicate chiming of jewelry accompanied her movements as the elf-maiden shoved loose sheets of parchment into a leather-bound book and placed her vibrant quill and a vial of wizards’ ink into their case. She stooped to grab a few fallen pages from the thick rug beneath her silk-slippered feet. Each turn of her head shook the fine chains and sparkling stones hanging about her long ears.
With all of her belongings finally in hand, she moved to step away from the table. Bartholomew grabbed her wrist and said, “I just want to be somebody that means something to you.”
There was a flood of sincerity in his words, so much that it seemed forced. There was something equally unsettling about the way his grip on her tightened, trying to keep her tethered next to him.
That was too much, to impose on her person in such a way. She felt her temper threatening to snap.
A silent, momentary challenge passed between them as she looked from their hands to his face, before pulling hers away with a pointed jerk. His grip, no matter how strong, meant little to an elf. The following curl of her lip was nothing less than a snarl for just a moment, accompanied by the hum of mana concentrating around her. A deep breath lifted her breast as her fist clenched amidst the growing wisps of shadow beginning to orbit it.
She could do it. She could simply drop him through the floor, to wherever things went when they couldn’t escape her Void.
Behind her, a jagged gash cut the air itself. It opened and another hand appeared, one so pale that the animated web of black veins writhed visibly within. It jutted out from the Void as the tear continued to peel open with a sickening sound like flesh rending. Some unidentifiable fluid dripped from the hand and dribbled from the swirling edge of the gash itself.
Thessi finally exhaled. While she continued staring down the seated man, the Void Walker reached out and slipped her own hand into the reaching one. “We have been good friends, Bartholomew, but I believe you should find a new tutor now.”
Thessi said with a smile, bright like the edge of a cutting blade to match the cold steel of her eyes. The flabbergasted man watched her turn with his mouth still hanging slightly agape.
Led along by the hand’s gentle pull, Thessi stepped through the tear. “It was just a- …kiss.”
The dejected voice carried through as she disappeared into the darkness beyond the lamp-light’s reach.
In her place, an eye, massive and lidless, appeared. It came closer and closer to the tear until it pressed against the edges, stretching them with its curved girth, threatening to come through.
It stared at him until he was sure the swirling black iris would somehow drag him down into its hollow spiral. Too afraid to move, he could only let the fear spread across his features. When Bartholomew seemed sufficiently horrified, the eye retreated and the gash stitched itself closed again with squelching, reaching threads.
In the dim, cavernous space on the other side of the portal, Thessi muttered angrily to herself while she awaited the opening of the exit. With a huff, she straightened her corset and knocked a fold from her skirts. “...’come study the arcane with me, I can’t configure this glyph properly’…”
She went on in a mocking tone of Bartholomew’s voice. “Stupid, stupid-”
A rumble beneath her feet cut her sentence short. “Oh? Do you have something to contribute?”
Thessi snapped, looking upwards, to where some distant light cast the foggy silhouette of a massive heart against a towering, membranous curtain. The shadowed heart throbbed in slow, colossal rhythm, pumping that strange, thick, black blood through the web of veins and capillaries that wove their way over the surrounding tissues.
The visceral surface she stood upon fell rapidly in a sharp, exasperated exhale.
A smaller rift appeared near Thessi’s feet. Through it, she could see a richly furnished room where a gaggle of young men, both humans and elves, lounged on couches and in armchairs. None of them noticed the peephole above them. “That stuck-up bitch thinks she’s too good for you, too, eh?”
A familiar voice scoffed. “I told you so.”
Another familiar voice chimed in. “Whatever. At least I don’t have to pretend to be her friend anymore.”
A third voice, Bartholomew’s, grumbled from his brooding perch on a couch. “Not to mention that freaky… what do they call it? Void magic? Her brother’s got it, too.”
Thessi’s jaw clenched as the exchange went on.
Eventually, the group of rejected suitors revealed their intent to merely marry into her family’s substantial wealth.
She was trying, and failing to smother her temper a second time, so focused on steadying her breathing that she didn’t notice her own hand moving reflexively.
The spy-hole snapped closed just before a dagger sank into the flesh where it had been. Thessi had pulled the blade from its hidden sheath in her corset and intended, however subconsciously, to fling it through the portal.
A groan echoed around her. “Oh, no! I’m so sorry. I didn’t-”
She poured apologies as she retrieved her knife. The black blood slithered off the blade of its own accord and Thessi slid it back into its home within her bodice. “Thank you.”
Gratitude weighed on her words, having realized that her patron had kept her from doing something very stupid. After all, sending a dagger with her esteemed family’s crest molded into the pommel through a young aristocrat’s throat was hardly befitting of a respectable elf-maiden.
Thessi watched the wound that her dagger had made as it healed in seconds. All the spilled fluid retracted itself before the puncture closed, as if Time itself wound backwards just a little bit, for just that little cluster of matter.
She gazed back up at the slowly-beating heart.“Will you ever speak to me? Will you ever tell me what you are, or of the world you live in?”
Thessi asked suddenly with poignant existential curiosity in her voice.
The distant beat of the colossal heart marked each stretching, tensing moment of silence as it passed.
Thessi abandoned her expectation of an answer, when a whisper pressed right against her ear. In the very corner of her vision, she could barely see tendrils of black curls undulating slowly, each one leaving a trace of itself lingering behind as it moved. Lips colored by the black blood flowing within brushed her skin and sent a chill like no other down her spine. “I may speak, but I haven’t much to say.”
The voice spoke in overlapping languages. Some hissed and some purred and some rumbled like thunder. The many tongues made a chimera of words meant for many worlds, as if each word would somehow find its way into a different ear that would understand, somewhere, sometime.
Thessi felt her knees weakening, her eyes rolling, her blood pounding. The pressure of the whisperer’s presence was crushing her, though all the while she felt that she might simply explode. Black-veined arms held her steady as she began to collapse.
Then, she was falling, falling much faster and further than a simple faint to the floor.
The comforting warmth of the Void was ripped away and on the edge of consciousness, she recognized the familiar chilly bite of desert-night air.
Her fluttering eyelids managed to open just as the rift above her was closing. As awareness returned to her body, she realized that she’d been laid prone on a soft carpet. She sat up and found herself in the dim, unoccupied living space of the rented home she was sharing with her brother and their companion. The moons’ light came through the tall windows, casting a violet hue over everything.
The echo of the whisperer’s strange voice haunted her thoughts, sending another wave of fear over her.
She hadn’t much time to consider the events further, though.
On edge, she whipped around at the sound of the front doors’ latch being undone. One hand came alight with magic, while the others’ fingertips danced against the hilt of her dagger.
When her brother staggered through the door, she relaxed. “Damn you, scaring me like that.”
She said, as if her standing alone in the darkened home, poised to fight, wasn’t strange in and of itself.
With a clap of her slender hands, an oil-lamp flickered to life on a nearby table. Thessi sighed heavily as soon as she took one look at her twin, and the dark stain of blood down his chin and onto his shirt, his dusty, tousled hair, and- gods, was he missing a boot?
Then again, what else were brothers for, if not embarrassing her and the family… “Well, come on, then, let’s have a look.”
She said, taking his face in her hands and turning it side to side. Thessi winced at the sight of his still-crooked nose. At least something about this night was normal. “Let’s get you cleaned up before anyone else sees you and Father sends us another letter about our ‘mutual responsibility to maintain the social standing of our proud and noble line, carried through the eons by dutiful scions such as ourselves.’”
Thessi said, forcing her voice deeper into a parody of their father’s while she quoted him.
Since she could actually see what she was doing, she easily straightened his nose with a tiny zap of basic healing magic, then took his bloodied shirt and left him to wash off the rest. He could take care of replacing his boot, too. A barefoot walk to the cobbler’s might teach him a lesson.
She hesitated on the other side of the closed door to the bath. She could hear the crude, noisy pump already filling the tub. Finally, she called through the door: “Meet me in that room that barely passes for a ‘study’ when you’re done. Something strange has happened to me, and we must discuss.”