The world shifts and spins. Tilting, tilting more. Pulling me in all directions and none. Tearing, dropping. Falling. My screams of pain echo in the fade dully… and somewhere else, strident and blood curling. A sensation hotter than everything I’ve ever felt before, enclosing my very being. I twist and struggle, but to no avail.
They surround me, cast spell after spell to force me down, force me to change. Ozone hangs heavy in the air, evidence of the magic used. Helpless. Powerless. Victorious laughter.
I don’t want this! Help! Help me!
Suddenly, blinding light. A wall of ice. Complete silence, all a blur. In a heap I drop to the ground, this new shape hurting me, constricting my breath. I cough and wheeze, unable to see. Paralyzed, then breaking through as the violet barrier vanishes.
Will myself to crawl forward, away! Away! Noise comes back slowly like a curtain that lifts teasingly. Sounds of a fight. Brutal and deadly. But the pain in my chest keeps me unfocused, blind and numb to everything else.
My escape cut short as something hard connects with my forehead. A cry falls from my lips, I twist around myself, and up. Limbs so foreign and reluctant to be obedient. In fright and fear I press myself against this hard surface behind me, willing myself to submerge. But I can’t. Not anymore. Another blinding light. Drowning everything in silence once more. The air so cold, thick with smoke and magic. Is this how it feels like to die?
Unable to move. Breathing is difficult, a heavy weight on my chest. Weakened. Shaking arms wrap tighter around bent knees, head bowed. The cold breeze pulls at my body, which feels so foreign. Confined. Shaped. No, this is not right. I don’t belong here. I am scared.
The screams and slicing of flesh, grunts and thuds end finally. Silence - save for labored breath and something that thuds loudly in my chest. A… heart?
Scratching of metal as a sword gets sheathed. Clanking of armor and chainmail. A dull thud. Then.. heavy footsteps, drawing nearer. I curl tighter into a ball and squeeze my eyes shut. So tight it hurts. No, please! No more!
Rustling of fabric. The breeze that chills my new shape and lets me shiver… lessens. There is something - someone - kneeling next to me, I realize. I can’t see… but hear, smell and feel. Their breathing, uneven and rushed. Exhausted. Just like mine. Worry and care. Not greed to possess and enslave.
“Maker…” They husk, “Wait- here.” A clasp undone. Fabric sliding along steel. The air shifts and suddenly… warmth. Warmth from all sides like a cocoon. Spicy sandalwood scent. I flinch at first, but then curl fingers - my fingers? - into it. Linen, thick and rough. But it helps.
“Don’t- don’t be afraid.” They say. Fingers clad in leather dance over the top of my head, brushing away sweat slick strands of… hair as I lift my head, unseeing. The air, stale with sweat, coppery tang of blood. Lingering ozone from spells cast. Pungent. But closer, more of this Sandalwood, which I quickly learn to connect with warmth. Safety. It intensifies as the presence draws closer to me.
A thud and crunching of dirt. I try to see, but it's so difficult. I want to know who is with me. But also… want to sleep. It’s all too much. I am tired. My face contorts into a grimace as the pain pulses deeper a last time… then vanishes. A single tear rolls down my cheek. Why do I cry? Spirits don’t cry. The tear does not fall for it gets wiped away tenderly.
“Shh… It’s ok…” the presence - no, a man! - tells me gently, “They won’t harm you anymore. You are safe now.”
They. The mages who lured me to where the veil is thin. Who used my very being to their advantage. Pulled me through the veil. Tricked me, cast spell after spell. I did not change. At least I hope. My limbs too heavy to check for demon claws. But I can feel the difference. No longer shapeless, floating. But stuck, confined. Limited.
I tilt my head to the right, testingly. Squeezing my eyes shut - then opening them slowly. A sucked in breath I hear while my eyes adjust. It’s so bright here and colorful. An onslaught of impressions. Blinking several times. I whimper.
Blurs first, a human shaped one in front of me. Slowly my vision clears and I can make out more.
A man, as I guessed. Not a mage, no. A warden. A warrior. Trademark armor in silver and blue. Ginger blonde hair and worry lines in a handsome face. Prominent nose. Full lips. Soft hazel eyes focused on me.
I stretch with a pained whimper and will my arm to move, inspecting my hand. Slender fingers, delicate. I am not a demon then. Lily-white skin, almost translucent. Contrasting so greatly with his, as I reach out, fingertips touching his cheek in growing curiosity. The contact is an intense feel, the complexion of his face so versatile. Prickly because of his stubble. Sticky with sweat and blood from a past fight. But underneath it all… a welcoming warmth. Those hazel eyes watch me intently but he does not shy away from my touch. There is hesitation. But no horror. Watchful are his eyes, full of wonder and slow realization.
“You… you’re- Maker...” he catches himself and shifts. My hand drops from his face and I watch as he reaches out and secures the coat so it does not slide from my shoulders. He glances to the side, then back at me.
“Okay… listen. We need to get you away from here.” Imploring. Worried. “Can you… walk?” I blink several times and my gaze drops, down to where toes peek out from blue linen. Testingly they wiggle. But it costs so much energy. My breathing speeds up, I whimper. No. I don’t know, how.
I shake my head. The warden watches me intently and frowns, murmuring something under his breath. Then he widens his kneeling stance.
“Okay… Differently, then. I am going to carry you, alright?” I tense at his words and pull the linen tighter around my body, eyes flicking away from his face.
“No, don’t be afraid! Look…” he clears his throat and gives me a reassuring smile.
“My name is Alistair. I promise I will not harm you. Do you understand what I say?” I nod slowly.
“Good. The problem is.. You can’t stay here. It’s too dangerous. There is an inn not far from here. I rented a room and…” he sighs, rolling his shoulders, “Maker, this is difficult. Uhm...” Alistair contemplates for a moment and looks at me thoughtfully. Holding eye contact is difficult but even as I feel my powers fade with every second more that I am in this new shape… I feel that he is genuine. A warrior, but no danger. At least not for me.
The linen coat rustles as I reach out weakly, indicating my consent to be carried. Alistair catches up on it and leans forward and slides his hands beneath my shoulders and thighs. This much contact triggers a shudder, and those hazel eyes worriedly snap back to me.
“I know this is difficult. It won’t be for long. You are safe with me, I promise.” The linen of his coat rustles as he tightens it around my body, then pulls me towards him. “I will help you.” His knee used as leverage he pulls me in his lap and then secures his hold on me. Our faces are so close now. I can see the green flecks in his eyes while he seems to be mesmerized by mine, holding me close to his chest.
“Do you have a name?” Alistair wants to know. I don’t answer, for I don’t know how to speak. Don’t know how to use this tongue and lips to form syllables or words. And what will happen when he knows? Mortals aren’t always welcoming. I must look troubled for his gaze softens.
“Hey. Don’t worry. The worst that will happen now is us getting lost on our way to the inn.” There is a lightness in his tone and emphasized humor that pulls my lips into a shy smile. The faint wrinkles around his eyes crinkle as he slowly rises with me in his arms, never breaking eye contact.
“But as I said: You are safe with me. A spirit of curiosity is by far not the weirdest thing I have seen in my life. And in contrary to a witch, I am more intelligent than I look.” My breath hitches at his casual way of speaking. No fear. No disgust. Only… gentleness and protection. Worry and care.
“Some spirits take on mortal names to make interactions less.. antagonistic. So… do you have a name?” I blink several times while trying to comprehend the knowledge bits he dumped upon me, then slowly shake my head. “Hm. Okay. We will find a nice one for you in time.” Alistair shifts me a bit higher in his arms and glances away, thoughtfully. I follow his gaze and my mouth drops open. So many, many colors!
The sky is bathed into a soft blue with white flecks in between. The grass and trees are in vibrant greenish colors and everything looks so real. Gone is the blur through which we spirits see the mortal world, telling me that somehow my very being must have changed. This Alistair did neither shy away from my touch nor look at me in disgust. So I am definitely not a demon. But what else am I? A thought crosses my mind. Whispers in the fade, telling about a rare thing that happens to spirits. Neither demon nor wisp.
This must be the mages’ doing! They… made me mortal!
I should feel angry about my fate but am too exhausted to do so. My nature pushes me to discover and explore, take it all in. Oh, the things I could learn and see!
Alistair must have sensed my change in mood for he looks at me in gentle amusement, easily adapting to the wiggling and shifting I do.
“Easy there,” he quips, “One thing at a time. First we need to get you away from here.” I nod slowly and smile, shifting a last time before stilling in his arms. Alistair tightens his hold on me, then starts walking. It’s a gentle rocking sensation that I quickly come to like. I feel safe and secure in his arms.
The inn comes into view soon enough and Alistair slows down, humming thoughtfully. It’s a deep rumbling sound that lets his chest vibrate and in amazement my hand splays out on the tiny spot of skin on his neck, unprotected by armor. I earn an amused smile for my action.
“It’s best you feign sleep now. Less questions that want to be answered,” he advises and I smile obediently, closing my eyes - but not before I catch the faint rosy blush, coloring his cheeks. It’s a relief to block out all the colors and light because although I am curious as it’s my nature, the concentrated intensity of it tires me out.
True to his plan, the innkeeper asks not many questions, apparently trusting a warden who carries a sleeping person not to do something evil.
As the door to his room clicks shut I open my eyes, looking around in wonder. A simple furnished room. Not fancy but functional. Alistair gently lowers me onto the bed and leaves my side, shutting all the windows and blowing out all candles. Only the fireplace stays lit, bathing the room into a cozy dim orange light. I watch him with rapt attention, realizing quickly why he is doing this. By erasing sensations of wide ranged color, noise and light… he helps me to calm.
When everything is to his satisfaction Alistair returns to my side and undoes his sword and shield, setting both up on the nearby armor stand. As he undoes the buckles and clasps of his armor he throws me a gentle smile.
“Rest a bit. I will organize something to eat and clothes.” There is a demand in his tone, faint but I understand what he implies. My knowledge of the mortal world is limited and he offers himself as guide and mentor. Unbidden. Because he cares.
I do as I m told and lay down on my side, knees pulled up to my chest. Tiredness lures me in quickly, all those new sensations wanting to be processed in a restful sleep. The coat wrinkles around my new body which still feels so foreign to me. Limited. Contained, yes. But also… secure? Not floating away, disappearing. Footsteps draw nearer and a soft weight settles on me, curd soap mixing with sandalwood.
A thick woolen blanket I realize, with which Alistair covers me to protect me from lingering chills in the room.
My eyes flutter sleepily, seeking his face as he squats down, touching my cheek with a gloved hand.
“Sleep, Curiosity,” Alistair whispers gently, “I will watch over you from now on.”