The Beast writhes above, heralding death down to them,
Men, women, and children answer, deathwalking and condemned,
Bodies torn, formed of plague, decay, rot, and phlegm,
They walk free, walk free... T’wards the Serpents’ Requiem.
This was not how the night was supposed to end.
They should have been sleeping in their beds, warm and dreaming under the safe canopy of a thatched roof.
Such an ending was not to be. They had come to be hiding in Bruno’s cabin. Now a dark trench of screaming, harrowing silence — endless echoes of it. Joy could practically count each breath individually, the timbre of each person's sorrow as it left their parted lips. Rage, loss, grief, and confusion all singing up to the invisible dark. She sat for a long time contemplating the events. None of it made a lick of sense to her and she didn’t see fit to ask when nobody else had the answers either.
Her tired stare fell on Janus from the cold corner of the room she had chosen to settle down in, by Henry’s side. Joy observed in Janus a man who must have given himself in full to war, a man who had carved away pieces of himself in bloodshed, a man who knew violence like she knew music.
Joy did not speak the language of warriors, nor could she comprehend much of the conversation that she had heard tonight. She could make no sense from the shadows in the air that the others found such restless unease in, and there were no answers to be found in the silence between them all in the room.
They were all here and yet not one of them wanted to be. Anywhere else, anywhere at all but here, and here now
- under this new and scathing sky.
Joy had been expecting to swat away the wanting hands of drunken men and women as they cloyed for a moment of her time, desperate to run a septim into her pocket, to whisper a request in her ear. Instead, she had been thrust against swaths of undead, the remains of people just like her, torn mindlessly from their graves— or perhaps not even. Creatures so ready to claw the fabric of life from the living. Unraveling at the skin of the deceased patrons like bandages, reaching deep, deep down to find what? For what purpose?
With a quiet sniff, Joy placed her hand over her throat and let her fingertips brush the bruising there - the redness that she had brought upon herself through sheer stupidity in the heat of the moment. This wasn’t the sore voice she was accustomed to. It wasn’t the same rasp she got in her throat from singing and laughing until the early hours.
No, this was screaming, so much screaming. Everything that she had seen and heard before the light fell out of harmony and into chaos was circling over and over in a whirlpool, dark and endless.
She withdrew her hand at once, not wanting to feel the heat of fear that resided there any longer.
As the others all found themselves a place to settle down, it occurred to Joy that they each had in common the provenance of confused pain now. That this unlikely traveling party had been built and born in the blood and smoke of Solomon’s inn, The Loyal Hound. It would just be clouded ash now. Floating and rolling through the tide of the sickly night.
They may have been sharing in their collective pain and anguish, but she was still the outsider.
Everyone around her had a secret. A strength that helped them in the unexpected fight. Even Solomon was not who she had thought him to be, and she felt a twinge of embarrassment for working so hard at him, showing her spark, and her fire for life—rubbing it in his face
. Her world had never
consisted of monsters, or cataclysmic events. Joy was just a bard, and before that she was just a slave, and before that, a simple orphan. Tonight, had she become the burden of this group? Was her presence simply as intrusive to them as a nail sticking upwards through the floor?No.
Her secrets were not the same, with nowhere near the depth as any of her companions... But she had reason to fight too, even if she was without their means. She had her own, and she wasn’t willing to sit under that cloud of doubt any longer, no matter how black the night. She huffed out a sigh —turning her toes inwards to look at them fidget and move under the blanket, in spite of the clawed cuts and the cold numbness.I can still move. I can still walk. I have my arms to hold and carry. I have my voice to speak.
As she tilted her head back, she gazed out of the window — up at the looming threat of the Serpent, alone and suspended on an abyssal backdrop. They had no answers yet. She had no answers. Inzoliah did not either, nor Sihava, nor Janus... Not even Solomon knew this fight.
Just like that, the trickle of a memory - a voice that came through the rushing current of water that moved with reckless abandon. An anchor to hook to a mote of hope...
“Better the fire be just a glowing ember, than let the fire go out.” Joy told herself convincingly, with the briefest whisper of a determined smile, before it faded again under the blinking light of the oppressive Serpent.