Your name is Rose Lalonde and you are in what you would consider, in your amateur opinion, to be a bit of a predicament.
The lights in your bathroom are flickering. This tends to happen, on nights when you sink to your knees over the lip of the tub. It’s one of those with feet. The tile is chipped, stained; the cold bite of it pricks at your skin. Details, to claw your way back to reality.
Here, then, is your predicament. This is your reality—doubled over and spilling cold contents of the sea down your drain.
You’re too far inland for it to be what it looks like: you did the math, the closest shoreline is a two-and-a-half hour drive away. You did lots of math, after the first time. All the same, though—what else could it possibly be? The salt burns your cheeks and gums. It’s clear, tonight; some nights, it runs like ink, staining the walls of the tub with black-blue rings.
Somehow, you don’t think your agreement with your landlord mentioned this in damages.
When you think it’s over, you reach for the taps (faded labels, the cold one squeaks when you turn it, details and details and details) and watch it circle the drain. You feel hollowed out. You do not feel clean.
You cup your hands under the stream and rinse your face, towel off, and sleep for four hours. Then you wake, drenched in sweat, something horrible and unearthly clogging your throat, and do it over again.
The diary on your nightstand says day thirty-eight. It feels like an eternity; it feels like time does not belong to you anymore.
TT: I have a hypothetical question.
They say curiosity killed the cat. Actually, a 2003 Honda Accord killed your cat, when you were a kid. It took you another ten years to learn that the saying ends with “satisfaction brought it back.”
In following this, it had seemed a reasonable enough idea, at the time. You'd made peace with the fact that your curiosity would get you into trouble long ago: you just hadn’t. Quite. Anticipated this.
TG: hate to be the bearer of bad news lil sis but most of your questions are hypothetical
You’ve always had a certain knack for finding the necessary tools for this sating of your curiosity, this metaphorical cat-killing. Convenient, even, because acquiring centuries-old grimoires banned in a dozen different countries is somehow easier than cleaning feline remains off your carpet. Landlords and their ~priorities~.
TT: So suppose, hypothetically, that you were to somehow gain possession of a book claiming to teach the reader the ways of the old gods.
The caveat? You hadn’t been able to read it. The symbols had swam in front of your eyes in an ancient calligraphy. You’d copied them out by hand and emailed them to a friend of yours in the linguistics department. He’d called you on the phone to meet, rather than reply to it, which had sparked your interest sky-high.
“None of these show up in Proto-European records, let alone any runic systems of the past two millennia. Rose, where did you find this?”
“I’ve got my sources.” Kesten had looked at you like were an extra in a shitty spy movie, and you had pressed onward. “What’s more important is what it means. Is it phonetic? Can I read it if I know the sounds?”
He’d frowned at you over his hot chocolate, hunched over the tiny cup in the too-small chair of the local cafe. You, barely reaching his chest with the book on the table between the pair of you, had felt like a giant.
“—I mean.” His eyes had kept flicking to the book, like it would open its yellowed pages into some sort of monstrous thing and bite him square on the nose. “I mean, yes, I can make you a chart with the corresponding IPA, but—”
“Perfect.” You’d been giddy. Childish. Awfully so. “I’ll buy you lunch for a month.”
“Three months.” His scarf was twisted around his fingers; he’d been running his thumb and forefinger over the length since you’d sat down and pulled out the grimoire.
“Three months,” Kesten had said, leaning forward until the chair creaked. “The glyphs used here—Rose, these were not used for anything good. Dark workings, they were scribbled out of history for a reason.”
You had smiled at him over your cup. “That’s what I’m counting on.”
TT: And then suppose you were to research the traditions of the old gods, and all the information was lost in translation, so you took it upon yourself to read them.
TT: You know. Hypothetically.
Words formed easily on your tongue—or what you assumed to be words, these jumbles of sounds so alien to you. Kesten clarified the phonemes you didn’t know (you knitted him a thank-you gift, watched his hands acquaint themselves with it under the table) and you slowly worked your way through the pages.
But that’s all they were. Words. Scribbles in fading lines, blotched and stained like the book had been dropped in a puddle. The wiser thing, probably, would have been to stop. Quit while you were ahead. Save your cat before it actually got to the death-by-inquisitive-mind part.
You have never been so bold as to claim yourself wise, though.
TT: Now suppose—again, Roxy, this is purely hypothetical—that something you read, without your knowledge, triggered what you suspect to be a rift between universes, to release dark magic with you as an unknowing conduit?
You’ve come to call it Day One. A third of the way into the grimoire, your confidence in your grasp on the ancient symbols was reasonable. You flew through stanzas, tracing an index over the characters as you went.
When the lights in your room blinked in some bastardized Morse code, you paid it no heed; your apartment’s by no means a luxurious one, and electricity on the fritz doesn’t really constitute a red flag for you.
The red flag came instead as a blinding flash, a roaring in your ears like a broken levee. It came as something dark and unnamed in every damp shadow of your room, just out of your field of vision; it came in tendrils, insubstantial, to wrap around your ankles, your wrists, your ribs—your throat—
And then it receded just as quickly, a blip, a split second short enough that you could have imagined it.
Day Two, you rolled up your sleeves to find pockmarks along your forearms, looped around your calves: tiny rings, evenly spaced. You feel, on Day Two, like a prey animal.
Day Three, you put the grimoire on the highest shelf you could reach, balanced on a chair.
TT: If this were to happen, hypothetically, how would you go about dealing with maybe accidentally selling yourself as an emissary to a nightmarish supernatural force unknown to humankind?
TG: you WHAT
You do not dream. Or, more specifically, your dreams are not your own. Your nights are long, devoid of any light; you dream of depths, and an insatiable hunger. When you wake, you’re out of bed, on the floor of your room, curled up on the kitchen counter, in the bathroom with the sink overflowing.
All of this is logged in your diary, with varying degrees of legibility.
Some nights, your voice wakes you, and it’s not yours, either. Two-thirty sees you chanting at your ceiling in words you can’t begin to understand. You taste salt in the back of your throat. Your downstairs neighbour bangs on your floor with a broom, as if you had a choice. Your arms are at your sides like cinderblocks.
Day brings you little reprieve. You drag yourself out of the apartment, and the Sun sears your skin, invisible. You swap out t-shirts for long sleeves and cover your eyes à la Southern cousins of yours: it makes your blood boil, run frozen, as you search for compromise.
It follows you, this—this fear, as you make your way through the motions, heavy black things on your shoulders like a weighted cloak. When you pass a window, a mirror, there is nothing there. You duck into alleyways and brace against brickwork, wrestling with something you can’t name inside you.
You’re impure, you think. And yet whatever’s laid hands(?) on you has deemed you worthy. You are a paradox you cannot begin to unravel.
Roxy checks in on you, occasionally. There isn’t much she can do in the middle of a study abroad, let alone to help you determine what ancient eldritch entity has chosen you.
(Chosen you for what remains a mystery.)
And while you appreciate the company of your sister, however impersonal it may be, you can’t help but feel a little alone in all this.
The thought comes calling, unbidden, one night on the couch watching the dead pixels in the corner of your TV. You’re not alone, are you? Not in a true sense of the word. Somewhere beyond the furthest edges of your reach, you are being watched over.
Somehow, this makes it easier to accept the cards you’ve been dealt. Or rather, you suppose, the cards you have dealt yourself.
The pages of your diary fill with something akin to tired curiosity. Fatigue replaces concern until the force in you becomes a driving one, propelling your feet forward, bringing you to your knees and raising you up again thereafter.
It swells in you like it follows a lunar cycle; you yourself are in some kind of permanent eclipse, in a foreign darkness with your arms outstretched in front of you. Your reflection in the mirror spits out jumbles of sound, even after you clap your hands over your mouth.
Who are you?
What is happening to you?
You stock up on groceries, things you can throw together with minimal effort from your waterlogged limbs, and let your eyes shut when you can.
Is anyone out there?
It’s cloudy outside, an ash-grey August sky with humidity that stirs the creature in you, around you, above and beneath you. You’re less a cornered prey animal and more a sacrifice. (Day Twelve’s entry.)
You throw Vivaldi on your playlist and crank up angry seventeenth-century violin to drown out the roar between your ears. There’s a feeling of being...adrift. The gradual comfort you’ve accidentally tied to you is restless, and it churns in you, slowly filling your lungs. You wrap your arms around your middle and curl up on your carpet.
When someone knocks on your door, you are sorely tempted to ignore it. After the first ten seconds of constant, metronomic rapping, though, it becomes clear wallowing in this sick dread at who-knows-what is simply not happening today.
You pick yourself up, open the door, and the thing living in you shrieks as your apartment is flooded with something blinding, a flare of light, white and horrible and
The hand bracing against the doorframe is gripping the plaster hard enough for it to crack.
And then the light recedes, and you blink away tears that stain your cheeks a strange colour—only then do you realize you’re crying.
The messenger of the end days wipes his glasses on his shirt and says, “Rose Lalonde, apartment four? Look, this is as polite as I’ll get. I respect you got personal problems or whatever, but could you maybe use your inside voice when crisis comes callin at the crack a dawn?”
The smell of coffee wakes you, and the quick realization that you didn’t brew it makes you sit up. You’re on your couch: the throw’s been tugged over your legs. The stereo is off, Vivaldi resting in peace once more.
Even as you turn towards the voice, you recognize it. The boy from your doorway’s sitting cross-legged on your counter—he’s tall, you’re not entirely sure he needs the height boost—and flipping absently through tabs on his phone.
“I am.” You kick your feet over the side of the couch, dragging the throw with you. “I didn’t realize I’d passed out.”
“An I didn’t realize I was that ugly,” the boy replies, locking his phone and absently tossing it over his shoulder. It lands on a folded pile of dish towels. “I found your French press, by the way.”
“Is that your way of belatedly asking to borrow it?”
He pretends to think about it for a moment. “Sure.” He pushes off the counter to grab mugs. You are utterly baffled at this stranger milling about in your kitchen like he owns the place. “Take anythin in it?”
“I drink it black.”
He whistles. “Hardass.”
You hug your knees to your chest, rubbing your temples. “Remind me again where I know you from?”
“Depends how much you been leavin your apartment.” He taps one knuckle on the open cupboard door. Some dim corner of you—the one where you log all your details—recognizes the cadence as the one against your floor.
“You’re my downstairs neighbour.”
“I usually go by Eridan.” He holds out a steaming mug, and you uncurl your limbs to accept it.
“Pleasure.” You blow on the surface of the drink.
Eridan quirks an eyebrow. “You don’t gotta lie on my account.”
The coffee goes down easily, smooth and dark, warm spices, waking you up more fully. He pushes a chair over with one foot and swings his leg over the seat, elbows against the backrest.
Eridan asks, “So you gonna tell me how long you been communin with the old gods like some suicidal moron?”
“I.” You blink. “I. How—”
“C’mon. All the signs are there. I seen the claims on you. My ceiling is seriously fuckin thin to boot.” He takes a sip from his mug, glances at it, then knocks back half its contents. “You’re playin with things bigger than yourself, Lalonde.”
You lean back into the pillows. “I didn’t know,” is all you can think to say in your defence.
“Course you didn’t.” Eridan doesn’t sound patronizing so much as resigned: you feel analyzed, like he’s stripped you to your bones behind his glasses to see the unearthly parts of you. “No one ever does.”
“But you do,” you venture, caffeine siphoning courage into your voice. “You sound familiar with this kind of magic—”
“Oh, not magic. Divine invocation’s more accurate.”
“What’s the difference?”
“One’s bullshit an the other is a product of bullshit.” There goes the second half of his coffee. This guy is bottomless.
Right, sure. “...so you’re familiar with this divine invocation. Does that mean you know how to go about reversing it?”
Eridan pinches the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “You can’t...okay. No, I don’t know how to reverse it. A force that powerful choosin you ain’t in your control.”
His tone flattens, and he examines the bottom of his mug intently. You see a discoloured streak in his hair, silvery against the styled brown curls.
Another sip prompts you. “It sounds like you’re speaking from experience.”
“Somethin like that.”
You wait for elaboration, and Eridan does not give it to you. You sigh into your coffee. “So there’s nothing to be done?”
He looks back up at you: his eyes are an icy blue, and the waves in you roll like open ocean. “I didn’t say that.”
“There’s hope but no control and you believe in eldritch gods but not magic. Has anyone ever told you that you’re a little contradictory?”
“It’s come up once or twice.” Eridan stands, rinsing his mug with a swirl of his wrist and picking up his phone to toss at you with his free hand. “Put your number in.”
“Goodness, how forward.”
“Real cute. I’m here offerin aid outta the goodness a my heart, kid.”
You get the feeling he’s mostly calling you that on account of his extra foot over you. “It’s appreciated,” you say sincerely.
Eridan shrugs, closing the gap to brace a hand on your shoulder. It’s suprisingly cool. “Anythin to get some sleep in this shithole. I’ll be in touch soon.”
“Let me guess. You know a guy?”
“Don’t be facetious. I know a guy who knows a guy.” For a moment, you think you see him almost smile. “Be seein you, Rose Lalonde.”
Shadows cross his back when he lets himself out. You finish your coffee in silence.
It is Day Forty-One. Two days later, a text from Eridan Ampora, tagged in your phone with ungodly typing (my phone wwent through the wwash an fucked up my keyboard), gives you the name of an upscale coffee joint to meet. You think of sunlight; you think of the Light, what you’d seen in your apartment, you think of the burning tear tracks on your cheeks.
You grab shoes and a pack and lock the door behind you.