respite (chimera)
I can't believe this fucking bastard. In the midst of a life threatening situation and she goes and pulls this shit. The hell is she doing with me here, using me as some personal test subject to understand humans? To test their mental limits, gaslight them, break them? She's going to use all of this "research" to kill me at some point, isn't she? Maybe she cares for none of that, and she simply derives enjoyment from toying with my emotional state. ...someone remind me why in the fuck I am trying to psychoanalyze this goddamned alien creature? I walk behind her now. My hand hangs far away from her claw. As such I'm left following behind her tail, teary-eyed focus locked onto the pointed tip as it sways. Part of me wants to claw at it in unfettered rage, the other part wants to curl up into a ball and cry out of confusion and fear. The chimera could swiftly end me, and I trust the invisible catwalk with my life even less, so I shove all of it down and keep treading on. The rest of the walk is unremarkable. No words are spoken nor thoughts conveyed, we trod along in silence. Physically I feel a bit... off. Weak. Likely from the extreme stress and all the unbelievable shit I've witnessed in the past few hours. Everything from this enigmatic creature and her terrifying form, to the phasing through solids and the telepathic voice beamed to my skull... it's a lot for the brain to process all at once. For now I trudge through it, but my mind constantly drifts to that idealized moment in a far off future when I can finally lie down and rest. After what feels like miles of winding cavern without bottom, the invisible walkway finally ends with solid, visible ground. I tell you, I have never been so goddamned happy to have looked down and not only feel the rock underneath my feet, but see it. Every muscle in my body loosens from its ratcheted tension, and in an instant I'm made painfully aware just how sore they all are. Stone gives way to soil, the air grows warmer. Once cavernous space funnels down to a narrow tunnel. Sure enough, specks of sunlight trickle in, the hatch to the surface lies just ahead of us. Whether this is intentional navigation on her part or simply dumb luck, I may never know. The latch doesn't budge, at least not at the suggestion of my weakened arms, until a winding tail wraps around and lifts with me. Blinding light pours in through the newly formed opening, and with it comes the pained howl of a hyena being dragged through a pit of broken glass. The sheer volume scares me shitless as it echoes back down the constrained tunnel from which we came. Don't get me wrong, the sunlight hurts my eyes too, and I'm sure the wide pupils that comprise the entirety of her visible eyes aren't exactly doing her any favors here.... but I'd be lying if I said a part of me wasn't pleased with this subtle form of payback. Swiftly we emerge onto the surface and start running, far, far away from this place. Well, so was my intention. Instead I'm staring down at this poor bitch on the floor, all nine feet of pointed monster pathetically coiled up against the dirt wall, shielding her eyes with her arms like a child. The sight is, absurdity aside, amusing to say the least. You're enjoying my pain, aren't you? My body runs cold, stiffens into a rock. While she may be right to a small extent, it's... residual anger. I don't want her to suffer. "Listen... we need to leave. They're still aware of us, they are armed, and we can't afford to take any risks. I know it fucking hurts, but... you got me across the bridge. I will get you out of this hole." In return she responds with silence. Sensing there may be something on our tail, it's good enough a confirmation for me. Reluctantly-- fearfully, if I'm being honest-- I grab hold of her claw between my palms, and hoist her up to her feet. Somehow she complies because there is no way I could lift this beast of my own accord. The moment her balance is left to her own will she simply topples right on me, takes all my strength not to crumple into the dirt. Even then I know she must be going easy on me. How considerate.
Our steps into the outside world were not quite as graceful as I had imagined. Stilted, hobbling shuffles very much struggled to carry the both of us out from the maze of rock and concrete. The sunlight burns. Takes a few minutes for my eyes to readjust, and after stumbling with this chimera in some random direction, I spot a shady alcove underneath a ceiling of rock. A temporary haven free from the harsh rays of the sun. Gently I set her down against the wall. Er, dropped her, kind of. My strength is failing me. She doesn't seem to complain. I collapse next to her, and for ten or fifteen minutes we simply rest and catch our breath. My focus shifts between the bellowing swaths of grass, the swaying branches encircling the clearing, the sound of the leaves rustling against one another as the wind carves through them. You know, I thought that finally laying eyes on the surface again would help ground my brain from everything I've just been through. But the way the light filters through the trees, the way every blade of grass and far off branch seems unnaturally in focus and sharp feels... disorienting. Nothing here is quite right. Something's off, yet I cannot specify what. As if my brain drifts away from my body. I do my best to ignore it and calm down. So, this is the "surface" you've been referring to? I glance over to find that her eyes, perhaps for the first time, have opened to observe the earth around her. Squinting heavily, of course, but she's certainly soaking it all in as much as I am. Likely more. "Yeah. Welcome to earth. Sometimes, it's not a total hellhole." A bit of silence. I try not to stare, but I occasionally glance over at the ghost, seeing her expression contort and twitch ever so slightly as her focus shifts from one thing to the next. I may feel out of my mind right now, but I'm sure she must be feeling even more disoriented. What grounding does she even have to attach herself to here? Thank you. For guiding me out here. "O-oh, of course..." Another lapse of silence. With any other human being, these moments would feel awkward. They're starting to feel more comfortable than anything else. Doesn't mean I'm not fumbling for words, though. "You... guided me as well. Through a maze I couldn't see, despite all the anxiety running rampant in my system." I consider mentioning the curious comfort on her part. How the gentle embrace against her cool skin grounded me atop distinctly unobservable ground. I'm unsure how to frame this without getting too emotional, so I filter it out for the time being. "I'm uh, not really sure how you managed to pull that off, but I am pretty sure that I would've died in that facility had I not had you there to walk me through it. So, thank you as well." Mm. Not even a word, just a colloquial utterance beamed directly to my head. Kind of fascinating, really, given she couldn't recite a single word just hours ago. Still though, the obvious question boils within my skull. The pressure builds until it bursts out all on its own. "...okay, I need to ask you. What you did to me... back on the bridge..." When you lied about the capability of the terminal, when you subsequently flicked me in the forehead, tell me: did you intend harm? Loaded words swiftly interrupt my own. I struggle to conjure a satisfactory answer, whatever it is she may be looking for here. "L-listen... you tower over me. You are full of sharp and pointy edges, be they claws or horns or teeth. You can fucking transform and single-handedly fight off an entire horde of... whatever the hell those things were. If I ever choose to pick a fight with you, I am choosing death." Ah, so this is why you restrained yourself on the bridge after all... fear. Ugh the raw audacity of this bitch. "Y-yes, I have never seen or heard of anything like you. I am afraid of you. I'm sure you can sense that much. So... no, I was not intending harm." Neither was I. So if it wasn't harm, what was your reasoning, then? I tense up. She already knows my answer, she just wants to hear me say it out loud. Her nascent yet steamroll approach to conversation has backed me into a corner, and there's not much use in defending myself here. My stammering voice drops to nearly a whisper. "You, uh, looked so fascinated with the terminal, probably never having seen one before. And out of all the things in this world that may have captured the curiosity of something such as yourself, I just found that fascination of yours kind of.... cute." Before I can even utter that last painful word there are already strained and stilted breaths leaking from bared teeth. She's... laughing? Is this her uncanny attempt at laughter? "Alright well fuck you, what was your reasoning for scaring the living shit out of me?" The hushed gargles subside as she, rather mockingly, places what would be her index claw against her chin in thought. I really can't make this shit up. Hmm, perhaps, a few reasons... maybe I'm simply curious, still learning how to communicate with your kind. It seems you learn through observation and imitation, after all. I might be plotting to kill you. Or I could just be fucking with you for fun, who knows... Oh she's plucking not only the thoughts but the swears right out of me, I hate this. ...or, quite possibly... it may be for the same reason as your own~. Dread boils over as my worst fear is confirmed: the alien has learned how to flirt. And better than me at that. Not that that's a particularly high bar. I'm left to shamefully snap my gaze back toward the clearing as I once again feel my complexion run hot. I'm flattered, in some indescribable way, but I would prefer any flirting tossed in my direction not to inflict trauma. Having gotten what she wanted out of our little chat, presumably, she lifts up to her feet until they hover just above the ground, and nonchalantly drifts forward atop the very blade of grass I'm intently staring down. Come, let's move... they're likely still searching for us, after all. I'm reluctant to follow her lead, but I'm at least relieved for an open invitation to move on from whatever this is. Silently we agree on a direction, away from the metal hatch in the ground, and start walking. It's odd, to feel the give of dirt and grass beneath my feet. A far cry from the hard impact of concrete and stone they've known for so long. The weather is pleasant, if a bit warm, but the foliage provides an ample spattering of shade. The dense detail of the outdoors proves to be a tad visually overwhelming, driving my focus to drift all over the place. Despite this it doesn't take long for something to catch my eye: clusters of bright red nesting in a bush. Before I can even think I find myself standing over them, salivating. I cannot remember when I last ate. ...these are edible, yes? "In the sense I can swallow them, sure. But you could say that for a lot of things." I'm left staring at them, contemplating whether or not to take the risk. I'm no survivalist but the assault of pained groans from my abdomen make the bright hues look desperately appetizing. "Hey, you don't happen to know whether or not these things are poisonous to humans, do you?" For a brief moment she fixates on the swaying branches, perhaps somewhere far past them. That is difficult to gauge, as I am not well-versed in the limitations of the human body. I could ingest anything and likely be fine. "A-anything?" Yes. Even you. I'm... blindsided. Utterly unsure how to process this. She's messing with me again, right? Is this another stilted attempt at a flirt? Then I briefly recall the flash of teeth I caught back on the bridge: large jagged incisors, closer to those of a shark than any human, serrated edges meant for tearing flesh. I decide not to inquire further. Morbidly curious, I pluck one of the berries from its clump, roll it between my fingers, inspect it, and pop it into my mouth. It tastes... fine. Hunger drives me to position it between my teeth and bite down. Instantly the most vile and bitter taste I could imagine spreads across my tongue like wildfire, forcing me to spit it out along with a bevy of disgusted vocalizations. It's only happened twice now but already I'm growing real tired of this chimera's sorry excuse for a laugh.
Hours lapse, miles pass, the trunks and canopy thicken while the harsh noon sun softens into an orange glow. Hunger increasingly gnaws at my insides, though the amount of upset my stomach is experiencing seems rather disproportionate. I haven't eaten in hours, sure, I've spent several of them under continued exercise and strain, true, but there's an uneasy swirling in my gut that doesn't feel right. Like most things that pry for my attention, I ignore it. Lucky me, something else happens to grab my attention instead: a rusted red that sticks out among the endless tangle of dirt and bark... it's brick? Wading through the bushes, we discover a dilapidated building. It's abandoned, with chunks of the wall taken out by fallen trees. Many of the windows lay broken or missing entirely, all the doors seem firmly boarded up, save for one that's been torn open. It may be long abandoned, but where people once stood, there's still a chance... Wait... I ignore her and stomp right in, start tearing open the cabinets and closets for something to eat. Anything. Maybe there's some sort of rations or MREs, if there's canned food lying around I'm lucky enough to have the world's most exotic can opener right behind me. The search grows fervent as drawers are ripped open, disturbing the clusters of spiders and insects that have claimed them as their own. I don't know what's happening with me but it consumes my mind enough to not bother questioning it. The more desperately I dig through old equipment and come up with nothing, the more my insides contort. Without warning my entire frame shivers as a cold sweat ripples straight through it. Something is wrong. Physiologically, something is very wrong with me. I do not know what. Without the energy left to continue the empty-handed search, I slump downwards along a cabinet and collapse with my back against it. Doesn't feel like I have the strength to stand up anymore. You don't know what's wrong, do you? Of course she comes out with it well before I can open my mouth. Must've been monitoring me this whole time. I struggle for words so the only thing I can muster is a shake of my head. Suddenly I'm feeling weak, breaking out into a sweat, body feeling like it's overheating and freezing all at the same time. Quickly it pivots to a cold chill, followed by the coiling twist of my guts. Instinct informs me on what's to come. Fuck. As it turns out, there must've been something in my stomach, because now it is all over the floor. If I truly had any energy left I've just vomited it all out, as I'm left a trembling, fragile mess. What seems like hours pass as I fixate on the opposite wall, hyperfocusing on all the little cracks and the texture of the brick, willing my tumultuous guts to calm the hell down already. "Fuck. I might know what's wrong." I pause to catch my breath, waiting to build up the energy to finish my thought. Speaking aloud suddenly feels like the most arduous task in the world. The chimera simply leans down and stares in expectant silence. "This must be an old facility of theirs, abandoned decades ago." Another pause as my body catches up. "Reckless as they are, there's probably still something... irradiated. Infected. Who knows what." My body's too weak for this shit. "We need to get out of here." Without another word she's already scooped me up, one arm against my back, the other below my knees. Honestly I'm terrified to change position in fear of my guts revolting. Though the feeling of death ready to overtake me at any moment allows me no energy to argue. Instead I reach over and attempt to wrap my arms around her shoulders, though their broad stature leaves me to awkwardly dangle atop them and around her neck. Sensing this failed gesture of support, her form leans back ever so slightly, gravity allowing me to rest against her chest. Her cool skin helps to equalize whatever the hell temperature my body rapidly fluctuates around. And while my memory from this point remains rather foggy, she turns to face the wall, and we both pass right through it. The sensation elicits a mild shiver, which only accentuates the odd feeling of brick phasing through skin. Huh, tingly... she was right. My consciousness weaves in and out, or so I think. I remember the feeling of nascent raindrops pecking against my skin. My head tucking further into her chest in response. I recall feeling the rush of air sweeping past, the trickles of rain growing into sharp little stabs. I'm not sure whether the wind had picked up or if we were somehow accelerating at a considerable speed. I'm too drained to care.
Here, this should be far enough. Gingerly she sets me down against the trunk of an old evergreen. Night has fully set in, and the spindly needles above do little to redirect the flood of water from the clouds. I'm soaking wet, freezing, starving, weak, without food or shelter, and there exists no god to know where the hell we are. She sits beside me, intertwining her claws between my fingers again. I'd squeeze back but there's no strength left. I can tell she's sifting through our minds for words. ...tonight will be difficult for you, given your present state and the lack of critical resources. Again she rifles through. I'm not quite sure what speech she may be constructing, whether she's delivering an empathetic goodbye or just asking permission to devour my corpse. Who am I kidding, she wouldn't bother asking permission. The roar of countless raindrops against dirt and leaf fill our combined silence. I may be able to... minimize the pain you are feeling, at least overnight. If you would like, of course. Though be aware that this may come with unforeseen risks, as I do not yet fully understand the limits of your kind. Another fucking experiment, eh? A pang of fear ripples through my chest-- or maybe it's nausea, the two are inseparably linked at this point-- as I consider the weight of this proposition. I'm terrified of what unknown consequences this may bear. At best, I'll die. Worst case scenario, that death will induce a whole lot more suffering. But I've no means to protest it. It feels like I might die tonight anyway. May as well go out with a bang, right? Or at least a flick in the forehead. I don't even have it in me to speak aloud, but my answer solidifies itself in my mind. The very moment that internal conclusion is drawn, her claws fall atop my shoulders, tilt me over, lay my shambling form down on my side. My guts threaten to spill out as she sets me down, the anxious lump in my throat ready to suffocate me. This behemoth slinks over to lie in front and face me. Her arms hook under mine, pull me straight against her, and oh lord is she really going to try and do this to me before I fucking die? The sharp tips of claws begin to press into my back, firm, yet restrained. What I'm assuming is her tail swoops in behind to fully embrace me from all sides, and dilated pupils gaze right into mine. Anxiously my gaze aches to shift elsewhere, but something inside me tells me to simply give up, submit, look straight back. Without another word beamed into my consciousness, she simply tilts forward, tapping her forehead against my own, and Oh. Oooooooohh god. I can feel them. The tendrils wrapping around my mind. The edges of my vision melt, close in, until the abyssal eyes ahead are all I see. Enveloping me. They too fade away. Gone are the icy pricks of raindrops against my skin, the chills sparking down to my core, the hunger and nausea gnawing their way out. Both the cold world around me and my trembling form within it just... dissolve. Fizzle away. In their place a warm glow rises, swoops in and wraps all around and cradles me in a gentle hold, filling my transcendent senses with swirls of sunset shades and trickles of sweet sonorities, senses beyond the bounds of what our species could ever dream of, and it's all just... something our words could not ever convey. So I will not attempt to bend them beyond their lowly purpose. It is... bliss. Pure, unrestrained, otherworldly bliss. Who knows what my body is doing at this point. I don't care. I've already forgotten it exists. Maybe I'm still lying there drooling, maybe my corpse is being chewed on by that sharp set of teeth, and there is a heaven after all. Logically I ought to be unsettled by the mere idea of this chimera's tendrils rifling through my brain, weaving into its folds and poking all the right places... but it's entirely because of them that the corporeal world and all its trite logic and anxieties and pain are ejected from my mind, from whatever form of consciousness this may be. And it feels so wonderful. Who would have known? You are safe. It is tender, loving, enveloping, euphoric... You are warm. I never want to leave. And you are loved. I want to remain suspended in this ecstasy, cradled by her tendrils, f-fforever... .