It began on day six.
It was just an itch, crawling up and down his arms. He checked his arms several times. Surely there were no insects on Spire? But Sirrus knew this itch. He kept checking his bag, willing the ragaes plant to appear there. Nothing. No plant, no Book. He pulled out a small, intricately designed wooden pipe. Nothing there, either, not even a residue. He habitually chewed on the end anyway.
On day eight, he began to pace. It helped quiet his mind. His sleeves were rolled up, deep red scratch marks lacing up and down his forearms. Sirrus could feel them, whatever they were, just under his skin, tracing back and forth as he willed his arms still. Don't touch. It would just hurt more. He wrote, trying to find something, anything, to distract himself. Write a sentence, pace to the edge and back. Over and over, until Sirrus was sure he was going to wear a path in the deep grey stone.
On day twelve, it was different. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as soon as he awoke. Sirrus glanced around. Was he alone? He called out, but nothing but his echoed voice greeted him. He climbed to the top of the spire, where he Linked in, but there was nothing. The entire time, he glanced behind him. He was being watched. Watched by what? Sirrus scratched his arm absentmindedly. He had seen nothing, heard nothing. From the sky to the clouds below, there was no sign of intelligent life. Nothing, nothing, nothing, but his thoughts and the stone.
Day eighteen changed everything.
He shot upright out of a fitful sleep. From the side, close to his ear, he distinctly heard his name. A woman's voice. But there was no one there. Sirrus carefully climbed out of bed, reaching for his dagger.
How cute, he thinks he can defend himself!
Hush, he'll hear you!
Sirrus spun around, dagger drawn. He yelled for the voices to show themselves, but was met only with giggles and echos. They were close, almost in his ear, and yet… What was happening? They were certainly real, he could hear them. They were as real as the insects under his skin. He flinched as his hand brushed a scab on his arm where he scratched himself raw. They weren't there right now, but they would return.
You are alone… there's nothing for you here…
You'll die here, you know.
The first woman, and the man. He ran to the edge of the rock and sank to his knees. Surely not, the ground, the ground… it had to have something! He threw a rock off the edge, trying to listen for it hitting the ground, or water, or something. But nothing.
Idiot. Do you think Father would give you a way out?
Don't say that! There's always hope!
He was inclined to agree with the second woman, and said so out loud. Yes, hope. There was more ways downward, surely. Sirrus tried to think. It was difficult. He felt as though his mind was covered by a deep fog, twisting through passageways that once rattled off plans, equations, knowledge. He scratched at a place on his arm not covered by wounds. Maker, give him strength.
By the time he made it to day twenty, he hadn't slept. The deep circles under his eyes matched the stone around him. His face, ashen. His vest had been discarded. Now a part of his exposed chest matched his arms, scabs and blood and blood blisters where his nails had dug in. Sirrus could not get away from the itch, the insects, or the three voices that chattered incessantly.
You are going to die here… alone, forgotten…
Yes. He had resigned himself to this fact. The rock was cool beneath him as he sat on the edge, feet dangling into the abyss. It would be nothing to slip forward away from this place.
He pushed his weight forward.
Sirrus awoke with a shout, flinging his arms out to a ledge that wasn't there, causing him to flail helplessly as he hit the stone floor. Panting, he took stock of his surroundings. Nothing but grey. Was it a dream? He hastily stood up and rolled up his sleeves. No, not a dream. His arms were still crossed with scars, scabs, and wounds. But around him was silence. None of the voices that had tormented him for days.
He sat back on his bed, sighing, rubbing the back of his neck. The insects were gone from his arms, the only itch being that of unhealed injuries. A normal feeling. He did not feel watched. He felt, for the first time in days, alone. Sirrus never felt so relieved. He picked up his journal to write, as was his custom in the morning, when he saw that his journal was more tattered than he remembered it being yesterday. He flipped it open and stopped breathing.
The only usual thing about it was the dates. Meticulous, as always, but after that… Maker. He woke up, yes, but as he turned the pages, Sirrus realized that he had been active – without his knowledge – for eight days previous. He stood up, journal still open, and began to pace while reading. The contents made less and less sense as he read on. Jumbles of words that did not fit together. Nightmarish drawings. Pages were missing.
Then, on the fifth day of his… absence… it began to turn for the better. The words flowed again. The sketches less of shadows and more of the scenery. He wrote less of the voices around him and more of typical things, such as science and escape plans. And now… now he was free. It was over.
As Sirrus sat and absentmindedly dug into his bag for a pen, he brushed something. His pipe. He froze. Ragaes. The plant. He had seen those in the streets that had begged him for coin for it. Their stuttering. Their sunken eyes. The way they saw and spoke to the shadows. Was that what had happened to him? He had not taken it in some time. He knew full well that withdrawal from alcohol did horrible things to his temperament. Was that what this had been? Withdrawal?
He clutched the pipe in his hand and strode purposefully to the edge of the stone and, with an angry shout, threw it as far as he could. Sirrus turned, not even watching it fall as it tumbled into nothingness.
He had so much more work to do.