The Courage of Lions [vi]

Not for the squeamish ~

When he opened his eyes, his eyelids slid open too fast, with not even a hint of muscular release, and it felt absurd, an alien sensation. The air around Othneil felt cold and hard. It was only then he realised whence he came had had no temperature, or reflected his own body temperature exactly at least, for how cold this place felt. Looking around, he blinked, and relived that same uncomfortable slippery feeling between his eyelids and his eyes. In utter darkness, he panicked at the prospect of having no eyes at all, gouged out by Akamere’s talon-like teeth.

Closing his eyes slowly to nullify the gagging sensation tingling through his throat, Othneil pressed his index and middle fingers gently against one of his eyelids. The flesh itself remained at its usual tension; breathing in deeply to maintain composure, he pressed gently on the eyelid, then harder, testing to see if it was hollow beneath. He breathed out a sigh to feel pressure remaining beneath – he had been spared! – but noted that when he tried to roll his eyes around beneath, he felt nothing. Opening his eyes again, he dared to repeat the same pressure from his fingers on the eye itself. He anticipated a shot of pain. Othneil felt nothing. He pressed harder, then harder still, as if he were willing to force the eye back down its socket. Disturbingly cold. Though the orb that must have been his eye did seem to have some give in it, moving side to side to suggest it was tethered to some tendons or muscles still, there was none of an eye’s familiar elasticity to reassure Othneil of his humanity. Had his eyes been turned to stone? Was he a statue now?

He began to rub his hands over his face, palms first to pick up any sensation of being chiselled or roughed, then using the very tips of his fingers and the thins of his nails to gently pick out the finer details of his face. Skin – that puzzled him even more. Whatever Akamere had done, the texture and tension of the rest of Othneil’s head was completely at odds with the chilled enamel feel of his malfunctioning eyeballs. Even the individual veins in his temples were there, the ones he had grown so familiar to. They quivered. Othneil realised he wanted to cry out, but had not even tried, for the fear that Akamere was still watching him, somewhere. Of course, for the moment, he certainly could not see if she could see him, so his fear felt increasingly futile. He decided the only option left was to see if he could find a source of light.

Othneil could walk with ease, and had apparently woken standing, without any sense of depth. Surging with relief, Othneil picked up from a walk to a run. As the darkness continued, so he sprinted. The darkness continued still, he swerved left and right, running in circles, semi-circles, anything to trick the light into revealing itself. He dived into a forward roll, embracing the infinite sense of athleticism the lack of depth or distance this space seemed to give him. As he twisted himself upright the corner of his forehead struck something sharp and solid, and Othneil…

Nothing came. No sound. No air escaping.

Othneil could not shout.

He tried screaming instead, really heaving his lungs and his jaw, but the whole effort swarmed with pain. He landed on his right shoulder, panting more heavily from the knock than all of his sprinting. Not being able to release that tension had been such a force of reckoning on his system that he had broken out into a sweat. What had happened? He had not checked his mouth before, for he had been sure he was breathing…

Slowly, Othneil ushered all eight of his fingers to his moustache-line, keeping his thumbs under his jawline for reference. As he stroked his face down to his chin back and forth, he choked inwardly, slowly at first, then violently. Where his lips had been, or his mouth, or his teeth beside that… it felt like a sponge. No, it felt like the porous bandage they used in the Anvil hospital to wrap up the wounded with gashes from battling orcs. Fused with him… Othneil had become a walking wound.



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